Immunotherapy is currently a hot topic in breast cancer research. The treatment modality boosts the body’s natural defenses to fight cancer. A common form of immunotherapy is the use of antibodies, which are a protein made by the body in response to a foreign substance. Antibodies work by attacking these foreign substances, such as bacteria, viruses or cancer cells. Unfortunately, some tumours are able to avoid this immune reaction. In these cases, additional assistance to the immune system through an immunotherapy drug is beneficial.
This month, the Food and Drug Administration in the United States approved the first immunotherapy drug for advanced breast cancer treatment, called atezolizumab (Tecentriq®). Professor Sherene Loi from the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre is a lead authority on immunotherapy in breast cancer, and welcomed the news.
“Atezolizumab has been approved for the treatment of advanced triple-negative breast cancer in combination with another drug, called Nab-paclitaxel,” she explained. “However, this therapy will not be appropriate for all patients, and more options are required. In particular, we are very interested in development of treatment combinations, where two or more immunotherapy drugs are used at once.”
Professor Loi is now leading two national clinical trials which aim to develop more immunotherapies, and hopefully take them through to regulatory approval. The trials, called CHARIOT and DIAmOND, are testing a unique combination therapy of immunotherapy drugs.
CHARIOT will enrol 33 patients to investigate whether immunotherapy can be used in conjunction with standard chemotherapy. The aim is to see whether the combination is effective enough to destroy the tumour prior to surgery. It will also evaluate whether continued use of immunotherapy after surgery keeps the immune system active.
DIAmOND will examine whether two specific antibodies, tremelimumab and durvalumab, are effective against HER-2 positive metastatic breast cancer in 50 patients. It builds on previous findings that a single immunotherapy drug is effective for this subtype of cancer, and aims to see whether the dual therapy provides better outcomes.
Australian women with advanced breast cancer have the unique opportunity to become involved in the trials, as the studies are only in Australia at this time. NBCF are proud to support early clinical trials, like CHARIOT and DIAmOND, and world-leading researchers like Professor Loi.