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 Pascal Meier

Location: Institute of Cancer Research, London

The challenge

Triple negative breast cancer tends to be more aggressive and currently has limited targeted treatment options. Sometimes drugs that are intended to kill cancer cells don’t work as well, meaning the cancer can continue to grow and spread. Professor Pascal Meier is investigating a potential new solution to this problem. He is trying to find a combination of treatments that can work together to use the body’s ability to kill breast cancer cells.

Drug: PF-06647020 (anti-PDK7-ADC)

  • A combination of two drugs that work together to halt the process through which cells multiply
  • This drug is targeted to cancer cells, particularly those in triple negative breast cancer, meaning healthy cells remain unharmed.

Drug: Avelumab

  • Blocks the PD-L1 protein, which is found on some cancer cells and decreases the immune system’s ability to kill cancer cells
  • It is currently used to treat some forms of bladder and secondary skin cancer.

The science behind the project

Professor Pascal Meier is testing whether a combination of three treatments: PF-06647020, Avelumab and one that hyper-activates a group of proteins called the ripoptosome, could be a new way to destroy triple negative breast cancer cells.

Usually when cells are damaged, they stop multiplying so that the body can decide if these cells need to be destroyed. Pascal and his team recently discovered that a group of proteins, called the ripoptosome, is responsible for making this decision, and signalling for these damaged cells to be eliminated. This is why one element of the treatment combination his team is testing, is to hyper-activate the ripoptosome. Combined with another drug, called PF-06647020, that stops cancer cells from multiplying, it can help to make sure that these cells are destroyed. The ripoptosome can also tell the immune system to kill these cells, but sometimes cancer cells learn to hide from the immune system. Avelumab, the last element of the treatment combination, can help the immune system to find and destroy the cancer cells.

Pascal and his team are testing whether these drugs can work together against triple negative breast cancer cells, using 3D mini-tumours grown in the lab from cancer cells donated by patients. These mini-tumours mimic the properties of the original tumour. By testing the drugs in this way researchers will be able to see more accurately how these three treatments are having an impact on triple negative breast cancer tumours.

What difference will this project make?

The knowledge gained from this project could lead to clinical trials to test brand new and much needed combinations of treatments for triple negative breast cancer. By using different drugs together, we can maximise the effectiveness of treatment and find ways to improve the lives of people with triple negative breast cancer, and give them the best possible chance of survival.

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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.