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 Leonie Young

Location: Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland 

The challenge

When breast cancer spreads to other parts of the body it is called secondary (metastatic) breast cancer. Secondary breast cancer is currently incurable. The disease can be controlled for a while, but existing treatments don’t work well if the cancer has spread to the brain. We need to better understand what causes breast cancer cells to spread to the brain and find new drugs that can be used to treat people with breast cancer that has spread there.

Drug: Talazoparib

  • Belongs to a class of drug called PARP inhibitors
  • Works by blocking the PARP protein so cancers with changes in BRCA genes can’t repair their DNA and die
  • A second generation, more potent PARP inhibitor

The science behind the project

Professor Leonie Young from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland hopes to determine whether some secondary breast cancers that have spread to the brain could be treated with drugs called PARP inhibitors, such as talazoparib.

As breast cancer spreads to the brain, cancer cells adapt to survive in this new environment. Analysing tumour samples that have spread to the brain her team has found important changes that help them adapt. Almost half of the tumours the researchers studied had changes in the way they repair their DNA. It could make these tumours sensitive to drugs called PARP inhibitors. The researchers now want to test whether a drug talazoparib could be used to treat secondary breast cancer that has spread to the brain.

Leonie and her team will use tumours and breast cancer cells donated by people with breast cancer to test in the lab if talazoparib could be used to treat breast cancer that has spread to the brain. The major challenge for treating breast cancer in the brain is that the drugs can’t reach the brain because of its natural protection. The researchers will also test if talazoparib would be able to reach the brain. They will also identify key features of a tumour that responds to this type of treatment versus those that don’t.

What difference will this project make?

The hope is that this work will lead to a clinical trial evaluating the use of talazoparib to treat secondary breast cancer in the brain. This research could reveal a group of patients who would benefit from PARP inhibitors, such as talazoparib, and a new way to select treatments that would help this group.

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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.