Testing Masitinib in combination with cheomotherapy as breast cancer treatment

Start Year: 2011
Finish Year: 2013
Chief Investigator: Professor Geoffrey Lindeman
Grant Type: Novel Concept Awards
Institution: Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research

Basal-like breast cancers, which account for 15-20% of breast cancer, are the most clinically aggressive. Current targeted therapies including anti-oestrogens or herceptin are of no value, leaving chemotherapy as the only option.

A cell marker called c-KIT was recently discovered on a distinct group of breast cells that we have found gives rise to basal-like breast cancer. This marker is also present on some basal-like tumours. In other organs, c-KIT can have an important role in sustaining cell growth. Mutations that ‘switch on’ c-KIT can also drive the growth of certain rare tumours.

Professor Lindeman and his team hypothesise that c-KIT is a novel therapeutic target to treat basal-like breast cancer. Recently, a drug called masitinib was developed that can switch off cells marked by either normal or mutant c-KIT. Masitinib has been shown to be effective and safe in treating a blood cell tumour (mastocytomas) in dogs. Masitinib is showing early promise in treating human cancers (such as ‘GIST’ and pancreatic cancer). This project will test whether masitinib is safe and effective in combination with chemotherapy in patients whose breast cancer has recurred. In parallel, they will use genetic studies to understand the frequency of c-KIT expression and its role in breast cancer.