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Developing a targeted therapy for Triple Negative Breast Cancer

The Breast Cancer Society of Canada and its mission to save lives through Breast Cancer Research is so important; researchers such as myself are beyond grateful to all those who donate and support the Breast Cancer Society of Canada. As one of many breast cancer researchers in Calgary, I wanted to say thank you for the funding provided by the Breast Cancer Society of Canada that allows us to test out novel concepts for our quest to end breast cancer. I write to you today honoured to share our quest to provide a novel, targeted, therapeutic approach for patients with Triple Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC). Except for BRCA positive TNBC patients, there is currently no targeted treatments available for this aggressive form of Breast Cancer.

Our story;
Upon reviewing the literature to build upon an idea that one of our esteemed Medical Oncologist researchers had, I came across some evidence that a specific gene in TNBC was often “turned off” (or silenced). This caught my eye because I knew that a particular drug used to treat an aggressive form of brain cancer is most effective when this gene is silenced in the same fashion, as I found in approximately 50% of TNBC within the scientific literature. So my next question was, has this treatment ever been tested in Breast Cancer? The answer was yes; however, it was utilized in clinical trials as a potential treatment for brain metastases as this is one of the few drugs that can penetrate tumours in the brain. What did they see? Mixed results in that some patients seemed to have a benefit, but many were deemed to have gained no advantage. Importantly, the majority of this research occurred before it was discovered that this treatment was most effective in patients in which the specific gene I alluded to early was “turned off.” Our hypothesis was those that had a response most likely had this gene silenced, and this drug would be most effective in patients who have this gene silenced. (The other significant part of this potential targeted treatment is from the previous clinical trials we know that the drug was well tolerated with minimal side effects compared to the current treatment options for TNBC.) We were very excited but needed more evidence to support our hypothesis, so we prepared a project proposal and submitted it to our local Breast Cancer Society Advisory Committee to request seed funding.

We were successful!
With the Breast Cancer Society of Canada funding, we were able to test our hypothesis within the laboratory setting and obtained additional evidence to support our theory. Super exciting! But where to do we go from here? Well, I am happy to report that we were able to leverage our findings to obtain almost $1,000,000 of funding from a larger Canadian agency to open a clinical trial testing this novel therapeutic approach in TNBC patients. We are thrilled to be opening the trial next year in Alberta. We hope that our provincial trial will eventually expand to a pan-Canadian trial and ultimately lead to a new clinical treatment approach for TNBC patients.

I look forward to providing additional updates in the future!

Again, I must reiterate that none of this would be possible without the generous support of the donors and the Breast Cancer Society of Canada. Research does matter!

Elizabeth N Kornaga
Translational Research Scientist, Tom Baker Cancer Centre, Calgary, Alberta

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