Project details

Researcher: Professor Sophia Karagiannis

Team: Translational Cancer Immunology and Antibody Discovery Laboratory

Location: Breast Cancer Now Research Unit, King’s College London

The challenge

Triple negative breast cancer is one of the more aggressive forms of the disease and makes up about 15 per cent of diagnoses. Unfortunately, there aren’t many targeted treatments available for triple negative breast cancer. This means that treatment after surgery relies on chemotherapy and radiotherapy, which can have significant side effects. We need new targeted therapies for triple negative breast cancer that could help save lives.

The science behind the project

Professor Sophia Karagiannis’s research is focused on antibody breast cancer treatments. Antibodies are molecules made by our immune system, but they can also be designed in the lab.

Antibodies can be used to treat cancer because they can recognise and attach to molecules on the outside of cancer cells. This tells the immune system to destroy them. Treatments that encourage the immune system to get rid of cancer are called immunotherapies. Antibodies can also have drugs attached to them to boost their anti-cancer properties, delivering the drug directly to cancer cells.

Sophia and her team at the Breast Cancer Now Research Unit at King’s College London are working to find new antibodies that can be used as treatments for triple negative breast cancers.

’Antibodies recognise alien entities in the body and can trigger their destruction by recruiting specific immune cells. My team can make antibodies that recognise cancer cells and are tailored to seek out tumours. We investigate how these antibodies cause an immune reaction against  breast cancer, and how well they work against breast cancer cells in the lab if we attach cancer drugs to them. Our aim is to select the most promising anti-cancer antibodies and ultimately determine which of these are suitable to be developed into treatments to benefit people with breast cancer.’ - Professor Sophia Karagiannis

Sophia and her team have previously found two molecules on triple negative breast cancer cells and have made antibodies that recognise them. They found that these antibodies successfully turn on the immune system and help it recognise and destroy breast cancer cells.

Sophia and her team are moving forward with their work in two main ways:

Developing new immunotherapies for triple negative breast cancer

Sophia and her team would like to improve their existing antibodies and develop new ones to recognise new molecules found on the outside of triple negative cancer cells. To do this, they are looking for molecules that are involved in the cancer’s growth and survival. Then they will design antibodies that attach to these molecules. The researchers plan to investigate how well these antibodies help the immune system to recognise and destroy triple negative breast cancer cells, in both the lab and in mice.

Sophia and her team will use technology to improve their most promising antibodies to better trigger an immune reaction. They will then do experiments to test how well they would work in breast cancer patients to help the immune system seek out and destroy cancer cells.

Using antibodies to deliver drugs to triple negative tumours

Sophia and her team are also developing antibodies which have anti-cancer drugs attached to them. The idea is that the antibody delivers the drug directly to the cancer, avoiding the healthy cells elsewhere in the body and reducing side-effects.

The researchers will identify target molecules on the cancer cells and nearby non-cancer cells which help the cancer to grow. After developing antibodies to target these molecules, they will find the most effective drug to combine them with, and test these treatments for their effectiveness against triple negative breast cancer cells.

What difference will this project make?

Sophia and her team hope to design a new generation of antibody-based treatments for triple negative breast cancer. These treatments could help the immune system destroy triple negative cancer cells and form the basis for more targeted therapies. This could lead to new treatments for the disease, helping people to live well and saving lives.

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