Better breast cancer treatment
Great progress has been made on breast cancer in recent decades. Five-year survival rates in Australia are up to 91%, while 83% survive beyond 10 years. Yet the disease still claims thousands annually and treatment often leaves those who do survive with significantly impaired quality of life.
Our researchers, however, may have an answer. They are developing a new breast cancer treatment that not only appears to be effective against the most persistent tumours, but carries little or no negative side-effects. In fact, it could actually enhance patients’ wellbeing.
“Our initial results are incredibly exciting,” says lead researcher Professor Wayne Tilley, Director of the Dame Roma Mitchell Cancer Research Laboratories.
“In extensive pre-clinical studies the treatment has reduced tumour growth at multiple stages of the disease, including endocrine-resistant tumours—those that have become resistant to all current forms of hormone-based therapy.”
Using a novel SARM (selective androgen receptor modifier), the therapy works by preventing the hormone estrogen from “switching on” key genes that trigger rapid cancer cell growth and proliferation. But according to Professor Tilley, that’s only part of the story.
“The SARM also stimulates bone formation and lean muscle development. So rather than patients suffering with standard-treatment side-effects, such as decreased bone and muscle mass, and long-term osteoporosis, they could actually feel stronger.”
With the SARMs’ therapeutic safety already well documented through clinical trials for other applications, the team is hopeful of making rapid progress in the drug’s development. They’re currently collaborating with colleagues from the University of Liverpool in a “window of opportunity” trial, testing the therapy’s impact in previously untreated patients during the short wait between diagnosis and surgery. All going well, the next step would then be full clinical trials.
“The research team is also testing the therapy’s effectiveness when combined with new standard-of-care treatments for metastatic endocrine-resistant disease, which is the main cause of breast cancer deaths,” adds Professor Tilley.
"Our preclinical studies in collaboration with researchers at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research and the University of Colorado show that the SARM can be combined with current endocrine treatments such as Tamoxifen or a new standard-of-care CDK4/6 inhibitor to maximize growth inhibition. In time we’d even like to explore its suitability as a preventive measure. For example,we’re investigating whether SARMs could be used to reduce breast density, which is a recognised risk factor for breast cancer."
“This research could save and improve the quality of many lives.”
Director - Dame Roma Mitchell Cancer Research Laboratory
Adelaide Medical School
Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences