Young cancer survivor pleased with FDA panel vote for ‘gene therapy’

Local News

An FDA panel voted unanimously this past week to recommend a new pediatric treatment using ones immune system to battle cancer.

WTAJ’s Karina Cheung caught up with local survivor Emily Whitehead about the vote who shared her story to make this treatment a possibility. 

Emily is five years cancer free.

She is the first child in the world to be treated for pre-b acute lymphoblastic leukemia using her cells to fight the cancer.

“I tell other kids to never give up always believe and keep fighting,” she said. 

She traveled with her family last week to speak to a panel with the FDA to approve immunotherapy research.

“Emily was as close as you can get without dying and we witnessed other kids that did die and were fighting right along side of us,” said Emily’s dad Tom Whitehead. “That’s what motivates me to appreciate everyday I get with Emily and try to make a difference with other kids. “

Tom says it was important for him to speak in front of the panel. 

“I was able to share Emily’s story and introduce them to Emily so that they could see what the cure for kids with chemo therapy doesn’t work for and Emily’s leukemia and what it looks like.”

The FDA unanimously voted to recommend the treatment.

“It will be in 37 other hospitals around the United States as soon as the approval happens and the Novartis pharmaceutical is going to build more cancer factories and invest over a billion dollars to help these kids.”

Oakland Raider Football player Jon Condo, a big supporter of Emily, says he’s ecstatic but there’s still a lot more work to do. 

“With the FDA approval it’s big but it’s not going to stop us from you know, our job is not complete,” explained Condo. “There are still a lot of sick kids out there and we’ll just continue to plug away and do what we gotta do.”

Emily is proud to help make a difference.

“It made me feel really good because it got approved other kids can have it.It’s amazing because then they’ll get to do fun things like play with their pet if they have a pet or go out with their best friends,” said Emily. 

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