As Joseph Chewning, MD, takes over as the clinical director of the Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation (BMT) Program at Children’s of Alabama, he has an eye toward the program’s future, especially when it comes to immunotherapy.
It’s a field that Chewning says is growing very quickly. CAR-T cell therapy, in particular, is changing the paradigm for blood cancer treatment. With CAR-T, the child’s own immune cells are programmed to recognize and destroy a patient’s cancerous cells. Children’s became certified in 2018 to provide the therapy to children and young adults with recurrent acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). As the new clinical director of the pediatric BMT program, Chewning wants to make sure Children’s can use CAR-T and other immunotherapies to help as many patients as possible.
“That’s really the goal for the program going forward—to continue to expand the novel treatments that we can provide for the children of Alabama, including cellular therapies,” he said.
One of the major advantages of immunotherapies is that, while they do have side effects, they’re typically less toxic than bone marrow transplant. For that reason, Chewning believes they’ll continue to become more common.
“At some point I think these cellular therapies will eclipse bone marrow transplant in usefulness,” he said.
Chewning’s focus on immunotherapies is one part of his overall goal of providing the best quality care for patients in the safest way possible.
“It’s really important to me that we fulfill the responsibility we have to the children of our state,” he said. Chewning wants to bring cutting-edge therapies to Children’s so families in Alabama won’t have to travel to get them.
“I’ve got four kids of my own,” he said. “I can’t imagine having a sick child who needs life-saving therapies and then having to separate from the rest of my family and go four or five states away.”
In addition to serving as director of the BMT program, Chewning is the medical director for patient safety.