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Research targets better drug treatment for breast cancers

September 23, 2013

New research targets better drug treatment for aggressive breast cancers

The New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation has committed $200,000 across two major research projects at Otago and Auckland Universities. The projects, each worth $100,000, have exciting potential for treatment of triple negative breast cancer (TNBC), an aggressive cancer that particularly affects younger women.

At Otago University, Dr Rhonda Rosengren and her team are targeting hormone-resistant cancers like TNBC, named for its tumours’ lack of the three hormone receptors that fuel most breast cancers – estrogen, progesterone and HER2 – which have more effective drug treatment options. The Otago team hopes to develop a low-cost nano-medicine that specifically targets triple negative tumour tissue. The medicine will be based on RL-71, a powerful new chemotherapeutic agent developed by Dr Rosengren’s team, targeted directly to cancer cells by a new delivery platform, styrene maleic acid (SMA) micelles. The SMAs encapsulate the drug and selectively deliver it to the tumour; they have an excellent safety profile and are readily scaled up for affordable clinical applications.

The NZBCF-funded project will test the safety and efficacy of the drug in mice, with the aim of leading to clinical trials in women in two to three years’ time.

“We think we have the potential to radically change the prognosis of triple negative breast cancer patients,” said Dr Rosengren. “The ultimate aim is an economical – less than $100 per dose – nano-medicine for clinical use in breast cancer patients.”

In the Auckland University project, Dr Euphemia Leung is investigating how everolimus, an existing drug, might work in combination with new tumour inhibitors to block the abnormal signalling pathways that cause cells to turn cancerous. Scientists believe inhibition of the signalling pathway will provide an effective targeted strategy against triple negative breast cancer.

“Inhibitor combinations have shown promising results in research into other, non-breast cancers,” said Euphemia Leung. “We’ll be the first to explore the concept with breast cancer cell lines. If our hypothesis about the effectiveness of these combined inhibitors is correct, we’ll provide fresh leads for treating hormone-resistant breast cancer.”

Evangelia Henderson, chief executive at the New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation, said the NZBCF has been actively seeking excellent research projects in the triple negative environment. “These triple negative breast cancers are so hard to treat, and have high early relapse rates – women and their doctors are desperate for new treatments,” she said. “Otago and Auckland Universities have proven capabilities in drug development, so we’re very excited about the potential of these projects.”

The New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation that depends on individual donations, community fundraising, grants from trusts and foundations and partnerships with business for its work in breast cancer education and awareness, medical research and training grants, advocacy, and supporting women with breast cancer. The NZBCF’s programmes are evidence-based, overseen by its medical advisory committee. The pink ribbon symbol is a trademark of the NZBCF in New Zealand.


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