Erika Hamilton, MD, Director of the Breast Cancer and Gynecologic Cancer Research Program at Sarah Cannon, shares the exciting advancements in the research and treatment of triple negative breast cancer.
“There have been several exciting developments in breast cancer research, including promising data for immunotherapy and targeted treatments for patients with triple negative breast cancer,” says Dr. Hamilton. “I’m proud of the work that Sarah Cannon does every day to help advance science and transform care for people facing this disease.”
What is triple negative breast cancer?
Breast cancer is diagnosed based on the presence or absence of three receptors – estrogen, progesterone and HER-2. These receptors are the drivers for the development and growth of breast cancer.
Triple negative breast cancer is diagnosed when a pathology report shows a negative result for all three of the common receptors.
Triple negative breast cancer accounts for approximately 10-20% of breast cancers. Additionally, it’s considered more aggressive than other forms of breast cancer, making it more likely to spread to other parts of the body and more likely to recur after treatment.
Developments in immunotherapy
Immunotherapy is a type of biological therapy that uses targeted drugs to convince the body’s immune system to recognize that there is something foreign in the body (cancer) and to attack the cells threatening it.
This summer, the Phase III IMpassion130 Study showed positive results for immunotherapy (atezolizumab) in combination with chemotherapy (albumin-bound paclitaxel; nab-paclitaxel) as a first-line treatment for patients with metastatic or advanced triple negative breast cancer. The eagerly awaited data will be presented at the European Society For Medical Oncology (ESMO) 2018 Congress, held in Munich, Germany from October 19-23. This is a groundbreaking development in breast cancer research because it’s the first positive trial highlighting the effectiveness of immunotherapy in breast cancer.
Advancements in targeted treatments
At the 2017 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, exciting data from the IMMU-132 (sacituzumab govitecan) trial for triple negative metastatic breast cancer patients was presented. This data showed that more heavily pre-treated triple negative metastatic breast cancer patients who received sacituzumab govitecan, an antibody drug conjugate, had an encouraging response rate when compared to patients who were treated with chemotherapy.
The clinical trial, ASCENT, with this compound is now available at Sarah Cannon. This drug gives people access to something beyond “naked chemotherapy,” where poison for cancer cells is infused into the body. This process harms cancer cells, but it can also cause side effects in the rest of the body, including hair loss, fatigue and nerve damage. Instead, the antibody drug conjugate is a chemotherapy that’s linked to an antibody, so when it’s infused into the blood steam it travels around the body without disturbing the normal cells. However, when it finds its target on the cancer cell, that antibody binds to the cancer cell and releases its chemotherapy right where it needs to be. This is an attractive option for patients, and was fast tracked for approval by the FDA.