Triple threat kills breast cancer cells

Triple threat kills breast cancer cells

Illuminate newsletter index page, June 2020
June 2020


Dr James Whittle led the research with Professor Geoff
Lindeman and Professor Jane Visvader.

Combining the anti-cancer medicine venetoclax with an existing gold standard treatment could significantly improve outcomes for breast cancer patients.

The promising preclinical studies were led by Dr James Whittle, Professor Geoff Lindeman and Professor Jane Visvader.

Around 70 per cent of breast cancer cases in Australia are estrogen-receptor positive (ER+), meaning they will grow in response to the female hormone estrogen.

ER+ breast cancers are currently treated with a combination of a hormone therapy plus a CDK4/6 inhibitor drug. This forces cancer cells into a ‘sleeping’ state called senescence, but it does not kill them.

Therefore, these cancers pose a high risk of eventual cancer relapse. In fact, the majority of breast cancer deaths in Australia are from patients with ER+ breast cancer.

Killing cells in their sleep

Dr Whittle said finding a way to kill sleeping cancer cells could help patients live longer.

“We looked to medicines that directly block the proteins that help cancer cells survive."

“Using breast cancer cells taken from patients, we discovered that venetoclax could kill ER+ breast cancer cells that had been treated with a CDK4/6 inhibitor.

“This was an exciting result as it was the first time that venetoclax has been shown to kill senescent cells.”

Triple therapy on trial

Professor Lindeman said the promising results justified clinical trials looking at a ‘triple therapy’.

“We have initiated the phase 1 PALVEN trial, which will look at whether this triple therapy is safe for patients and also at how patients’ tumours respond.

“It would be wonderful to see a new therapy that improves outcomes for patients with ER+ breast cancer. This is certainly our goal,” Professor Lindeman said.

Super Content: 
Venetoclax timeline of discovery

Starting with a landmark discovery in 1988, follow the story of how Institute research has driven development of a breakthrough anti-cancer drug. 

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