Advancing personalised medicine for breast cancer patients

Lead researcher

Professor Sherene Loi

Institution
Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, Department of Medical Oncology and Haematology

Years funded
2014-2018

Project description

My research is exploring how new targeted and immunotherapies can be tailored to an individual’s breast cancer.

Over the five years, this project will look at real-time molecular characterisation of breast cancers to guide the selection of patients most suitable for clinical trials and then identify biomarkers of resistance and response to current therapies in breast cancer. I will also attempt to understand how immunotherapies can work for breast cancer patients. Findings from this research will advance the precision medicine approach, inform design of future clinical trials and help us understand how immunotherapy can be used in breast cancer patients.

What is the need? 

Breast cancer remains the biggest killer of women in the western world under the age of 55 years. Whilst we are getting better at curing disease that remains in the breast, once breast cancer comes back, it remains largely incurable.

I am studying what are the possible markers that may suggest that a breast cancer will come back after surgery. As well as this, I am developing new drugs to combat the disease as well as understanding how to use immunotherapies in breast cancer patients. Immunotherapy is changing the way we treat cancer. If successful, immunotherapy may also result in a new way of treating some breast cancer patients and also lead to prolonged disease control in some patients whose breast cancer comes back.

What impact will this research have?

Immunotherapy, or drugs that can reactivate the immune system to fight cancer, are now being actively studied in breast cancer. Studies from my lab have shown that the immune system is active in breast cancer, but only in certain types.

My project includes an immunotherapy trial involving an anti-PD-1 antibody called Keytruda, which has already shown great results in melanoma. This trial will explore if this drug is effective at controlling cancer, which has come back in breast cancer that is HER2-positive.

Around one in five breast cancers, affecting 3000 Australian women each year, are characterised by overexpression of the HER2 protein – these cancers tend to be more aggressive than other tumours, and affect younger women.

Funding Body

Colebatch Fellowship

Funding

$300,000 pa for 5 years