Prof Nick Turner, from the Breast Cancer Now Catalyst research programme in the lab

Project details

Researcher: Professor Nicholas Turner 

Location: The Royal Marsden Hospital and The Institute of Cancer Research 

Project title: The ROLO phase II study 

Key area: Secondary breast cancer

The Breast Cancer Now Catalyst Programme

To achieve our aim that by 2050 everyone who develops breast cancer will live, 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 women 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.

The challenge

A particular type of breast tumour called ‘lobular breast cancer’ accounts for up to 15 per cent of breast cancer cases. Lobular breast cancer is often found later because it grows in different patterns from the majority of breast cancers and is harder to see on a mammogram. Unfortunately there are no treatments specifically designed to target lobular breast cancer, although it may be more responsive to certain drugs because it has a slightly different molecular make-up to other breast cancers.

This trial in patients with secondary lobular breast cancer will test whether a drug called crizotinib can take advantage of the molecular make-up of lobular breast cancer to shrink it down.

The science behind the project

Scientists, lead by Professor Chris Lord at the Breast Cancer Now Research Centre, have shown that crizotinib can destroy lobular breast cancer cells in the laboratory. This is thought to be because most lobular breast cancers lack a protein called E-cadherin, and crizotinib targets another protein that these cells seem to rely on instead, called ROS1. 

To follow up these promising laboratory results, Professor Nicholas Turner and Dr Alicia Okines will lead a UK-wide clinical trial to test whether crizotinib could be an effective treatment for patients with secondary (metastatic) lobular breast cancer. This is a phase II clinical trial called ROLO.

Women taking part in the study will have a biopsy of their cancer taken before they start, and will then receive crizotinib in combination with the breast cancer drug fulvestrant. Patients will also give blood samples throughout the study, and will also have the option of giving another biopsy if their cancer starts growing again. These tests could reveal changes taking place in the tumour that could be used to predict which patients will likely benefit from crizotinib in future trials.

What difference will this project make?

This study is an exciting opportunity to test a treatment specifically for patients with lobular breast cancer, which could give women involved in the trial, and future patients, more time to live with their cancer under control.

Contact details

For more information regarding the clinical trial, please contact ROLO.trial@rmh.nhs.uk.