The Breast Cancer Now Catalyst Programme

To achieve our aim that by 2050 everyone who develops breast cancer will live and be supported to live well, we need to speed up the translation of research in the lab into new and effective treatments for patients. We’re bringing together leading researchers and top pharmaceutical companies to pool ideas and resources and ultimately stop people dying from breast cancer.

As part of the Breast Cancer Now Catalyst Programme, we have collaborated with leading pharmaceutical company Pfizer to give researchers unprecedented access to a number of Pfizer’s licensed and investigative drugs as well as vital funding for researchers to test these drugs. This allows us to combine the expertise of our researchers with Pfizer’s compounds and deliver new treatments to patients more quickly.

Project details

Researcher: Professor Catrin Pritchard

Location: University of Leicester

The challenge

Around 95% of cancer drugs entering earliest clinical trials are never approved for widespread use. But this isn’t always because they don’t work. Often the drugs are not effective because the way we test them in earlier stages doesn’t truly represent what would happen in patients. Some drugs are also tested on a wide range of breast cancers rather than finding out what type of the disease they might work best for. We therefore need to improve how we test drugs at early stages. This would ensure that the drugs with the best potential are entering clinical trials reach the patients who could benefit from them sooner.

Drug: Anti-PTK7 ADC

  • Blocks a protein called PTK7 – which is linked with worse prognosis and tumours spreading to the lymph nodes.
  • Previous research showed it could be effective against triple negative breast cancer cells.

Drug: Gedatolisib

  • Gedatolisib is a drug that blocks two proteins, PI3K and mTOR, which can help breast cancer cells to multiply uncontrollably
  • Gedatolisib is currently in early stage clinical trials to treat oestrogen receptor positive (ER+) breast cancer
  • Many other drugs that block PI3K are in various stages of development for breast and other cancer types

Drug: Utomilumab

  • Attaches to and increases the action of a protein called OX40, which is found on the surface of certain immune cells
  • Acts to stimulate the immune system, which can then find and attack cancer cells

The science behind the project

Often experimental drugs are tested on tumours that have been implanted into mice. Whilst these tests give useful results, over time these tumours can become less similar to the disease in people. This approach can also be costly and take a long time to produce results on how the drugs perform.

Professor Catrin Pritchard is offering a solution to this problem. Catrin and her team have created a new, alternative way to test experimental breast cancer drugs. Her tumour system is made from samples of real tumours donated by breast cancer patients. The tumours are kept alive in the lab and retain additional parts such as blood vessels and immune cells. This approach allows researchers to preserve the interactions between the different cell types. Catrin hopes these tumour systems will more accurately predict how a drug will work in patients.

Her team is using cells from different forms of breast cancer to get a representative view of how different types of the disease will respond to treatments. The researchers are testing three different experimental drugs on their tumour models. They want to see if they can tell which breast cancer type the drugs might best work for, how effective the drugs are, and whether they seem to be safe. Using these results, the team will then be able to design bespoke clinical trials of these drugs to take place at the Leicester Clinical Trials Facility.

What difference will this project make?

If this tumour model successfully provides useful information on how different types of breast cancer will respond to a drug, it could help researchers decide which group of patients would be best suited to take part in a clinical trial. This has the potential to help more drugs succeed in clinical trials and therefore become available to the patients who will most benefit from them.

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* Pfizer has provided funding and Pfizer compounds for this research study as an Independent Medical Research grant as part of the Breast Cancer Now Catalyst Programme. Pfizer has no other involvement in this research study.