Encouraging new drug found to inhibit growth of most aggressive type of breast cancer

According to research published in the journal Oncogene earlier this week, researchers from Nottingham and Oxford Universities have found a new technique to slow the growth of one of the most aggressive forms of breast cancer. The drug, called JQ1, has shown promising results both in vitro and on human cancer cells in mice, and works by altering the way in which cancer cells respond to hypoxia – an oxygen-starved environment.

Hypoxia is present in more than half of breast cancer tumours, and most commonly in triple negative breast cancer (TNBC), a form of the disease that does not respond to many common cancer treatments such as Tamoxifen or Herceptin. Cancer cells adapt to this low oxygen environment by changing their biology through the activation of certain genes. This sends signals for new blood vessels to supply the tumour with fresh oxygen, providing the perfect environment for further tumour growth and spread, and greatly reducing the effectiveness of standard treatment therapies.

In the study, it was found that JQ1 significantly modulated 44% of hypoxia-induced genes, of which two-thirds were downregulated, leading a significant reduction in tumour growth rate. These findings change the understanding of tumour response to hypoxia and identify an exciting new avenue for epigenetic therapy to target resistant hypoxic cells.

The co-author of the study, Dr Alan McIntyre at the University of Nottingham, said: “By tackling hypoxia that so often compromises the treatment of breast cancers, JQI could be an important key to helping women with aggressive breast tumours.”  Combining hypoxia targeting with radiotherapy or chemotherapy has been shown previously to provide a greater therapeutic response by increasing sensitivity to those treatments. Dr McIntyre has said that JQ1 is currently being used in clinical trials investigating other cancers.

Dr Richard Berks, senior research communications officer at Breast Cancer Now, which support the study, said:
“We desperately need to find more effective treatments for these particularly aggressive forms of breast cancer, such as triple negative, and if confirmed, this finding could represent a real step forward.”

See Cancer Research UK’s press-release article on this here
For more in-depth information on the nature of the study, see the Oncogene Article