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Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia. Approximately 15,000 women are affected each year, many of whom are under 40. Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) is highly invasive, has no current targeted treatment and affects about 15% of those diagnosed with breast cancer.
Garvan is leading a world-first clinical trial of a potential new treatment for TNBC. It could dramatically improve survival rates for patients and even block tumour growth. This clinical trial also has the potential to impact other cancer types such as ovarian, renal, liver and glioblastoma.
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Cancer cell plasticity
Triple-negative breast cancer cases lack all three of the receptors (oestrogen, progesterone and HER2) that doctors can target with current cancer-treating medications. Currently, this disease has no targeted treatment also has a greater likelihood than other breast cancers of metastasising and spreading, and of recurring within five years. This is due to the cancer cells’ ability to ‘switch’ to a more aggressive form in response to chemotherapy, allowing them to evade treatment.
Associate Professor Christine Chaffer is the Head of the Cancer Cell Plasticity Lab at Garvan. Following five years of research, she and her team are leading this clinical trial of a novel treatment for TNBC.
Associate Professor Chaffer's passion and career focus have been centred around understanding human cancer development, progression and metastasis. She has demonstrated that cell plasticity (the process by which cancer cells change from non-aggressive to aggressive cells) is central to the development and metastasis of tumours. It is also likely to contribute to the development of resistance to current therapies and post-treatment relapse.
Her team’s studies showed that androgen hormone receptors are a biomarker of cell plasticity. This is because the receptors trigger the cells to switch states in response to chemotherapy and behave more aggressively.
A novel approach to breast cancer
Associate Professor Chaffer and her team identified an existing, experimental drug called seviteronel, that blocks androgen production. They then examined the effects of administering seviteronel with chemotherapy in preclinical models. Excitingly, this combination approach caused a 70-100% reduction in tumour size in models where the androgen receptor expression was present, compared to chemotherapy alone.
“We’ve proven in all our models that a combination of seviteronel plus chemotherapy in patients that have the androgen receptor biomarker are getting a massive overall improvement in survival. That’s the clinical trial that we’re running to test now - hopefully, we will see some of that overall survival improvement for patients.” – Associate Professor Chaffer
A pivotal moment – and no time to lose
Associate Professor Chaffer and her team believe that seviteronel also has the potential to treat other cancer types with this androgen receptor biomarker.
You can help fast-track discoveries like this through to clinical trial and directly to the people who need them most. You could provide remarkable new options for patients with aggressive TNBC and other hard-to-treat cancers.