Brussels, 27 October 2014
EU breast cancer research targets personalised treatment
Caption: The ASSURE project tailors breast cancer screening – hematoxylin and eosin marked breast tissue containing invasive ductal carcinoma. Copyright: ©VPH-PRISM
Today, in most developed countries, one in eight women will likely develop breast cancer during their lifetime. Boosting support for early detection, more effective treatments and better palliative care has been the focus of Breast Cancer Awareness Month this October. One promising avenue which a number of EU-funded research projects are taking is personalised medicine – adjusting treatment to a patient’s specific circumstances and condition.
From lab to clinic
The EU project TRANSBIG has been linking laboratory work more closely to treatment with 'translational' research, says scientific director Fatima Cardoso of the Champalimaud Clinical Center in Lisbon, Portugal.: “TRANSBIG contributed to tackling the fragmentation in breast cancer translational research by strengthening relationships between leading European researchers in the field. It has also led to the successful launch of what is viewed as one of Europe’s most innovative breast cancer trials of the past decade.”
The results of the trial, known as MINDACT, will be available in 2015. The trial is investigating whether genomic analysis can help physicians make better decisions on whether a patient can avoid chemotherapy after breast cancer surgery.
Clinical trials have shown that chemotherapy, while effective, can also lead to secondary cancers, damage to the heart, early menopause and reduced cognitive functions. And a substantial proportion of patients with early-stage breast cancer are thought to be over-treated, says Cardoso. MINDACT may avoid chemotherapy in 10 – 20 % of patients.
MINDACT has enrolled more than 6 600 women in 9 countries for the research, managed by the European Organisation for the Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC), and developed in collaboration with the Breast International Group (BIG), coordinator of TRANSBIG.
“Hundreds of thousands of women can benefit from translating research breakthroughs to life-saving treatments for breast cancer,” said EU Research, Innovation and Science Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn. “Cancer research has been a priority for EU research funding. Some €1.4 billion was devoted to translational cancer research from 2007 to 2013. We will continue that focus under Horizon 2020, speeding up the transfer of basic knowledge to early diagnosis, preventive and therapeutic approaches.”
Other EU research projects on breast cancer include EPIC, which studied how changes to a person’s diet could potentially prevent breast cancer. The CareMore and CTCTRAP projects are focusing on circulating tumour cells and DNA in a patient’s blood to guide early diagnosis and treatments for women with metastatic breast cancer. Meanwhile ASSURE is looking at ways to tailor breast cancer screening to an individual’s needs, and is developing alternatives to mammography – unsuitable for cancer detection in women with dense breasts.
Another project, RATHER, is identifying novel treatments, along with personalised diagnostic techniques, for women with triple-negative and invasive lobular breast cancer. These are difficult-to-treat cancers for which no targeted therapies are currently available. Finally, the MERIT project is developing a way to treat triple-negative breast cancers with personalised RNA vaccines that are unique to each patient.
Breast cancer remains the second most common cancer in the world, and kills more women than any other cancer type. In the EU, a record 364 449 women found out they had the disease in 2012. The EU invested €160 million in breast cancer research from 2007 to 2013 and that support will continue through Horizon 2020, the new research and innovation programme for 2014-2020.
On 1 January 2014, the European Union launched a new research and innovation funding programme called Horizon 2020. Over the next seven years almost €80 billion will be invested in research and innovation projects to support Europe’s economic competitiveness and extend the frontiers of human knowledge. The EU research budget is focused mainly on improving everyday life in areas like health, the environment, transport, food and energy.
For more information
BIG and TRANSBIG: www.BIGagainstbreastcancer.org
Horizon 2020 website: http://ec.europa.eu/programmes/horizon2020/