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Alwin Huitema: ‘We can make great strides in pharmacotherapy for children’

He is already an old acquaintance of the Princess Máxima Center, but he will actually start working on November 1. For one day a week, Prof. dr. Alwin Huitema will set up pharmacological research for children with cancer as a PI. ‘Lidwien Hanff will be my co-PI, but I actually consider all those involved in pharmacotherapy at the Máxima as my fellow researchers. You can only do this kind of research in a multidisciplinary way.

Alwin Huitema has now been a researcher for almost a quarter of a century and has been a hospital pharmacist and clinical pharmacologist at the Antoni van Leeuwenhoek (AvL) for over 15 years. From that position he has also been involved in pediatric oncology for about ten years. ‘I have been working on drug studies for a long time with Michel Zwaan. There is a lot going on, varying from small projects to PhD programs. I consider my part-time appointment to underline a fruitful collaboration that has been around for some time.’ Alwin calls pharmacology an indispensable support discipline in the treatment of the different types of tumors. ‘I contribute my expertise about the right dose, about what to do when children get older, and which combinations of medicines you can use. With our group we can expand and deepen our research in that area.‘


Huge research lab

Alwin brings a lot of knowledge from adult oncology. Newer drugs are often already known in the adult setting, but information about their use in children is often lacking. ‘For innovations in the use of medicines in children, I can make use of previous research in adults. Then we already know a lot about the effect and, for example, the kinetics. So you don't start from scratch. ‘The intensive collaboration between AvL and Máxima is crucial, says Alwin. ‘We not only bring the expertise from both organizations together, the Máxima also uses the facilities of the AvL. Such as the newly built pharmacy, which now has a huge research lab. And about a wonderful production unit for pharmaceutical preparation.‘


Close to the clinic

Alwin is enthusiastic about the ambitions of the Máxima pharmacy. ‘The pharmacy wants to have its own research branch and I fully support that. This is also how we work at AvL: we are all hospital pharmacists as well as researchers. Then you can take much bigger steps in the development of pharmacotherapy for patients, the AvL for adults, the Máxima Center for children. ‘Much of the work of the new group is very close to the clinic. This ranges from establishing dosing schedules, determining biomarkers, monitoring side effects to selecting the best form of administration. And there will be research into optimal combinations and sequence of therapies.’


Research as teamwork

It ranges from phase 1 studies to translational research, Alwin explains, i.e. translating research findings into treatment practice. Moreover, the research is much broader than healing with drugs. Quality of life is also an important research theme, he emphasizes. ‘For example, there will be a study on the reduction of neuropathic pain. We do this together with the pain doctors and everyone else involved in patientcare. And of course with the pharmacy, to make the medication in such a way that we can reduce that unpleasant side effect. It is real teamwork, because this kind of research can only be done in a multidisciplinary way.‘


More information

The arrival of Prof. Alwin Huitema to the Princess Máxima Center strengthens the collaboration and bond between two specialized oncology centers. This collaboration brings together the strength of the only two hospital pharmacies specialized in cancer in the Netherlands. It is expected that this will enable both organizations to learn from each other and to switch more quickly in improving the treatment of adults and children with cancer. More information: Lidwien Hanff, head of pharmacy and co-PI: l.m.hanff@prinsesmaximacentrum.nl