New drug hope for aggressive breast cancer

Women with an aggressive type of breast cancer have been offered new hope of a targeted treatment for the condition.

Irish scientists have found a potential new way to treat triple negative breast cancer, which currently has limited treatment options.

They have shown that a new drug, called THZ-1, can prevent triple negative breast cancer. It occurs in one in five women diagnosed with breast cancer and is more likely to affect younger women.

The discovery was made by scientists from Breast-Predict, a collaborative research centre funded by the Irish Cancer Society and an EU-funded research consortium called RATHER.

Triple negative breast cancer is defined as a breast cancer that is negative for oestrogen receptor, negative for progesterone receptor and negative for HER2.

Patients with the resistant form of breast cancer cannot receive targeted therapies such as hormone therapy and can only rely on chemotherapy.

Although many patients do respond well to chemotherapy, a resistance of the tumour to this treatment is a common problem.

Patients with triple negative breast cancer have a poor prognosis, and their tumours are more likely to return and spread following treatment.

The study, published in the journal Cancer Research, looked at a protein called CDK7, found to be present at high levels in triple negative breast cancers. It found that patients with elevated levels of the CDK7 present in their tumour were more likely to experience a disease relapse following standard chemotherapy treatment.

High CDK7 levels could be used as a biomarker to identify patients unlikely to respond well to chemotherapy.

The test could be beneficial to their doctors, as they could then prioritise these patients for a more aggressive treatment regime.

The researchers also tested a drug that acts on CDK7, called THZ-1, to investigate if this could be a novel treatment for triple negative breast cancer. Remarkably, treating triple negative breast cancer cells grown in the laboratory with THZ-1 halted their growth, both on its own and in combination with other treatments.

The researchers proposed THZ-1 as a novel treatment option for this aggressive cancer type, particularly in combination with existing treatments, to improve their success rate.

Professor of cancer biology at UCD, William Gallagher, who led the research, said it opened up an important new treatment possibility for patients with triple negative breast cancer.

Prof Gallagher said: “While further research is needed on this novel treatment before it can be used in breast cancer patients, this work is a key step in opening up a wider range of new and less toxic treatment options for triple negative breast cancer patients.”

Head of research at the Irish Cancer Society, Dr Robert O’Connor, described the research as a significant milestone in the ongoing work of Breast-Predict.

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