$15M gift funds advanced cell therapy at Valley Children’s

Valley Children’s Hospital Main Entrance as seen from the east parking lot.(Kenny Goodman)

Valley Children’s Healthcare receives $15 million donation to bring advanced therapy treatments to the hospital for region’s patients

FRESNO COUNTY – An anonymous contribution of $15 million has propelled Valley Children Hospital into a new era of medical treatment, allowing the medical center to introduce cutting-edge stem cell therapy and stop the need for patient transfers to distant urban hospitals.

The treatment is called chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy, and it will aid in the treatment of certain bone marrow cancers. According to an announcement from Valley Children’s Healthcare, a 2021 study found that 60% of children who underwent the treatment were cancer-free five years later.

“This gift will bring transformational cancer therapies directly to the children whose families look to us to provide them with the best care in the country,” said Todd Suntrapak, president and CEO of Valley Children’s Healthcare, via announcement. “Children who need these advanced therapies will no longer have to travel long distances and spend extended days away from home to get treatment, and will be able to receive life-saving therapies in a familiar setting, with their families close by.”

The treatment involves replacing diseased bone marrow cells with healthy cells from the patient’s own body. The treatment has been in use for 50 years and has improved as technology has improved. T-cells are extracted and genetically modified to create “super” cells that have enhanced abilities to target and destroy diseased cells.

In the announcement, Dr. Vinod Balasa, medical director of Valley Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center, said these therapies are some of the most powerful weapons available in the fight against cancer, but noted they also require a combination of medical expertise and specialized equipment to deliver effectively.

“This is a life-saving advancement for our patients,” Dr. Balasa said. “We will be able to establish a life-saving cellular and gene therapy program at Valley Children’s. This is truly a momentous day for our hospital and the Central Valley community.”

Valley Children’s Hospital said in a statement that the donation is one of the largest in the hospital’s 70-year history and will fund the creation and accreditation along with operational costs for the first 10 years. They anticipate a three to four year process to establish the new therapy. 

“This is exactly the kind of program we work hard to bring to the Central Valley in keeping with our mission and our unwavering commitment to expand access to care to the children of our region,” Suntrapak added. “Earning this historic gift is a testament to the amazing medical, nursing and support staff at Valley Children’s, and reflects our reputation as a leader in children’s healthcare and the importance of our pediatric Cancer and Blood Disorders Center to the region.”

Valley Children’s Hospital is a member of the Children’s Oncology Group and consistently ranks in the top 8% to 5% of all member hospitals. The hospital has access to more than 90 protocols for treating childhood cancers ranging from common to the most rare. The new T-cell treatment will further add to the hospital’s ability to treat cancers.

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