Anticipating cancer’s ability to reappear after some therapies, HMS scientists at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute have shown the promise of a new drug for a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer and also uncovered a mechanism by which the cancer can outmaneuver the drug. The study was conducted in an animal model and in cell cultures; the researchers plan to move to clinical trials in humans.
The findings, reported in the January 21, 2016, issue of Nature, may inform strategies for the treatment of breast cancers classified as “triple-negative,” strategies that use drug combinations to simultaneously arrest the disease and prevent it from becoming resistant to front-line therapies. The dual approach could significantly extend patient survival time, the authors say.
Triple-negative breast cancer, so-called because the cancer cells are without three key receptors, is estimated to account for 10 to 20 percent of breast cancer cases. It’s often aggressive and tends to have a poorer prognosis than breast cancers fueled by estrogen, particularly in the first five years after diagnosis.
“We found that a class of agents known as BET bromodomain inhibitors significantly impeded the growth of triple-negative breast cancer cells in laboratory as well as animal-model tests,” says Kornelia Polyak, an HMS professor of medicine at Dana-Farber. “On the basis of these results, such inhibitors will be tested in patients with triple-negative breast cancer.”
“Even if these drugs prove successful,” Polyak adds, “we know that cancer often devises a way to circumvent therapies and resume its growth. By understanding the series of steps that allows these cells to become resistant to BET inhibitors, we can now devise approaches that use combinations of therapies to slow or prevent resistance.”
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