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New anti-cancer agents show promise for treating aggressive breast cancers
Date:7/18/2011

Some of the most aggressive forms of breast cancer are more vulnerable to chemotherapy when it is combined with a new class of anti-cancer agent, researchers from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute have shown.

ABT-737 is one of a new class of anti-cancer agents called BH3 mimetics that target and neutralise the so-called Bcl-2 proteins in cancer cells. Bcl-2 proteins act to 'protect' the cells after they have been damaged by chemotherapy drugs, and prevent the cancer cells from dying.

Professors Geoff Lindeman and Jane Visvader, who led the research with colleagues Dr Samantha Oakes and Dr Franois Vaillant from the institute's Stem Cells and Cancer division, said that the BH3 mimetics showed promise for treating breast cancers, including 'triple negative' cancers. Their research is published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA.

Triple negative breast cancers are so-called because they test negative for oestrogen, progesterone and HER2 receptors, and cannot be treated with hormone therapy or trastuzumab. They account for up to 20 per cent of all breast cancers and are typically aggressive with a poor prognosis.

Dr Lindeman said that early results suggest navitoclax (an orally-available BH3 mimetic) could provide new hope for treating some breast cancers that are not candidates for other currently available treatments.

"ABT-737 targets proteins from the Bcl-2 family, which are found at high levels in up to 70 per cent of breast cancers," Dr Lindeman said. "We have shown that breast tumours that have high levels of Bcl-2 respond well to treatment with ABT-737 when used in combination with a conventional chemotherapy drug."

ABT-737 and navitoclax were discovered by Abbott scientists and are based on the discovery made at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in the 1980s that Bcl-2 is a 'pro-survival' protein responsible for preventing cell death in healthy and diseased cells
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Contact: Liz Williams
williams@wehi.edu.au
61-405-279-095
Walter and Eliza Hall Institute
Source:Eurekalert  

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