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Tackling the most deadly and aggressive form of breast cancer from all directions

This project has been completed

Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) persists as a deadly form of breast cancer today that lacks effective therapies. Now, a newly formed and funded Terry Fox Research Institute team hopes to employ a four-pronged approach to change the odds for TNBC patients.

Nearly all patients relapse within five years, and the median duration of survival is six to 12 months after the first metastasis, so there’s a drastic unmet clinical need here,” says Dr. Mathieu Lupien, a senior scientist at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto, Ontario. “There’s not necessarily one research route that will solve it all, so we need to be able to tackle the problem taking multiple different approaches.”

The team is focused on four research areas to enable better outcomes through new precision therapies:

  • Improving immunotherapy treatments
  • Changing tumour metabolism
  • Exploiting epigenetics vulnerabilities
  • Accelerating new treatment discovery through personalized models of patient-derived tumours

“This is a fabulous team with a strong track record of discoveries made in breast cancer in their respective fields,” he says about his co-investigators. “We have a great synergy, and when we work as a team it goes a whole lot farther than if we work as single units. This team has a lot to offer!”

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) is partnering with TFRI in the funding of this important research project. As well, the immunotherapy component of the project will be co-led by Dr. Pam Ohashi, who is co-leading a new pan-Canadian project focused on using immunotherapy to improve outcomes for women diagnosed with a lethal form of ovarian cancer.

Breast cancer is the second leading cause of death of Canadian women, with more than 5,000 dying from the disease each year. Around 20 per cent of these patients are diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer, an extremely heterogeneous disease with no precision therapy options. The disease is more likely to affect women under age 40.

The project will also generate significant resources in both datasets and personalized TNBC models for the broader research community in Canada, providing long-term benefits to improve patient care through personalized medicine.