A leading scientist at NUI Galway has been awarded a grant of over €250,000 by Breast Cancer Now to fund cutting-edge research into the development of a potential new treatment for breast cancer – CDC7 inhibitors.

Tuesday 7 March 2017      Research
Prof Corrado Santocanale

Prof Corrado Santocanale is based in the Centre for Chromosome Biology at NUI Galway

Breast cancers sometimes develop resistance to standard treatments, and as such there is a great demand for the development of new options for the thousands of patients in the UK and the Republic of Ireland whose breast cancers stop responding to therapy each year.

Professor Corrado Santocanale – now based in the Centre for Chromosome Biology at NUI Galway – was the first to propose the CDC7 protein as a key target in oncology back in 2004 in Italy. CDC7 helps cancer cells to divide, and research has shown that blocking this molecule with CDC7 inhibitors can stop breast cancer cells growing and cause them to self-destruct, whilst preserving healthy cells.

Professor Santocanale and his team have been instrumental in the development of CDC7 inhibitors to date, and the potential of these molecules to treat breast cancers has since gained a great deal of interest from many research teams, both in academia and the pharmaceutical industry. The ability of CDC7 inhibitors to only destroy cancer cells – and save healthy cells – is a promising indicator that this drug would help avoid the side effects commonly associated with current chemotherapy, giving patients more time with a better quality of life.

With Breast Cancer Now’s funding, Professor Santocanale will now lead a three-year project to gain a fuller understanding of the potential of CDC7 inhibitors for treating breast cancer in the clinic. He hopes that the molecules could be developed into a valuable alternative treatment for patients with cancers that have become resistant to other drugs. Most of the 700 women who die each year in Ireland will have seen their cancers become resistant to treatment.

It is believed that CDC7 inhibitors could be particularly beneficial for women whose tumours have a mutation in a gene called p53, which may occur more often in triple negative breast cancer – a sub-type of the disease that can be more aggressive and has no targeted treatments currently.

Firstly, Professor Santocanale’s team will genetically engineer healthy and cancerous breast cells in the lab to ensure that CDC7 inhibitors are only blocking the CDC7 protein, and not other additional molecules. They will then investigate exactly how CDC7 inhibitors interact with both types of breast cell.

Following this, the team will look at cells with different genetic mutations – like those that occur in cancer – and see if any particular mutations make cancer cells particularly susceptible to CDC7 inhibitors. This could indicate which patient groups might benefit most from CDC7 inhibitors.

Katie Goates, Senior Research Communications Officer at Breast Cancer Now, said:

“Professor Santocanale’s vital work will help uncover what role the CDC7 protein plays in healthy and cancerous cells and how we can exploit this to destroy breast cancer.

“The development of CDC7 inhibitors could be an exciting step towards tailoring breast cancer treatment to patients, based on the genetic mutations that are driving the growth of their cancers.

“Ultimately, Professor Santocanale’s work could expedite the efforts of research teams internationally, who are currently developing CDC7 inhibitors, and reduce the time it takes for the drugs to be made available in clinic.”

Around 2,800 women in the Republic of Ireland are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, and nearly 700 women in the country sadly die from the disease each year.

More information

Find out more about Prof Santocanale's research