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: Dr Bruno Costa-Silva

Location: Champalimaud Foundation, Portugal 

The challenge

Despite the current advances in breast cancer treatment, some people still go on to develop secondary breast cancer, which is currently incurable. Not only we need to develop better treatment options for people with secondary breast cancer, but we also need to better understand how breast cancer spreads around the body and find ways to stop it.

Drug: Bosutinib

  • Blocks the activity of proteins called Src and Abl to stop cancer cells growing.
  • Currently used to treat a type of chronic myeloid leukaemia.

The science behind the project

We know that breast cancer cells can communicate with surrounding healthy cells and convince them to form a supportive environment for cancer to spread. Cancer cells can even send signals to distant parts of the body, encouraging other cells to form favourable environment for cancer to spread to. Dr Bruno Costa-Silva recently discovered that tumour cells can release signals to the bloodstream and send them to the lung cells, in this way forming favourable environment for breast cancer to spread to the lungs. He also found that breast cancer messages promote leakage of blood vessels in the lungs, which makes it easier for breast tumour cells to invade the lung.

Bruno believes that these changes in the lungs happen because of increased levels of a protein called Src. He is investigating if the drug bosutinib, which blocks Src and is already used to treat chronic myeloid leukaemia, can prevent or delay breast cancer spreading to the lung. To achieve this, he is testing what effect bosutinib has on Src protein in lung cells. Using a mouse model of the disease, Bruno is investigating whether this drug can reduce blood vessel leakiness and whether it can prevent breast cancer from spreading to the lungs.

What difference will this project make?

We still don’t understand enough about how breast cancer spreads around the body, which hinders the development of new ways to stop it. If bosutinib is effective at preventing breast cancer spreading to the lung, it could protect people from developing secondary breast cancer in the lung and save lives. Since this drug is already used to treat chronic myeloid leukaemia, it could be more easily introduced to clinical practice in breast cancer.

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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.