Identifying new therapeutic targets for HER2-positive breast cancer

Start Year: 2014
Finish Year: 2018
Chief Investigator: Dr Jian Zhong (Bill) Tang
Grant Type: Postdoctoral Fellowship
Institution: Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute

Improved treatment is required by specific groups of breast cancer patients. For instance, approximately 25% of all breast cancers progress significantly faster and spread earlier because these cancer cells produce too much of a protein called HER2. These cancers are classified as HER2-enriched breast cancer (HEBC), hard to treat by chemotherapy alone and exhibit a high risk of relapse. Other treatments including the well-known “Herceptin” have been developed to reduce HEBC burden by blocking HER2 function. While these treatments have prolonged survival in some patients, over 60% of the HEBC patients do not respond to anti-HER2 therapies upfront or eventually become resistant. It is thus a priority in breast cancer research to better understand the mechanisms that underlie HEBC spread and therapy resistance, in order to provide the rational base required to improve clinical outcomes in HEBC patients.

There is evidence that HER2 might not be the sole “driver” of tumour growth and spread in HEBC patients. This may explain at least partially why anti-HER2 therapies fail to control HEBC and point to new therapeutic possibilities for HEBC patients. This project aims to uncover additional factors that promote the growth and spread of HEBC cells by using cutting-edge molecular technologies in cancer research. This research will further understand the underlying biology of therapy resistance in HEBC. By finding new answers to the clinically important questions in HEBC, discoveries from this study will provide high-impact insights into these diseases and may offer new avenues to improve outcomes in the patients.