Immune to Cancer: The CRI Blog



This is How CRI Funded Scientists are Fighting Breast Cancer

A Global Challenge 

Breast cancer poses a formidable challenge to healthcare, being one of the most common cancer types affecting women. In 2023, an estimated 300,000 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in the United States, with an anticipated 44,000 associated deaths. One in eight women and one in 1,000 men will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in their lifetimes. 

Several factors contribute to the risk of developing breast cancer, including a personal or family history of the disease and inherited mutations like BRCA1/2, which can increase the likelihood of breast cancer by up to 65% by the age of 70. Lifestyle factors, such as obesity, high breast tissue density, hormone therapy (MHT), and alcohol consumption can play a role in elevating the risk of breast cancer. 

While various treatments have saved countless lives, finding more effective and less invasive treatments is an ongoing mission to fight breast cancer. Immunotherapy drugs that boost a person’s own immune system to recognize and destroy cancer cells are effective in treating many cancer types, including breast cancer. In the truest sense, cancer immunotherapy has emerged as a shining beacon of hope for many cancer patients, emerging as a pivotal paradigm shift in the fight against breast cancer. 

CRI’s Impact in the Fight Against Breast Cancer 

For 70 years, the Cancer Research Institute (CRI) has remained dedicated to eradicating cancer and saving more lives by empowering cancer immunotherapy research. As the leading non-profit organization committed to revolutionizing cancer treatment, CRI remains committed to breast cancer research and breast cancer immunotherapy development. CRI became one of the first non-profit organizations to support breast cancer research, when over 40 years ago, CRI initiated funding for the New York Metropolitan Breast Cancer Group, a coalition of medical professionals from 15 different institutes working in unison to develop coordinated breast cancer diagnosis and treatment programs. With a total investment exceeding $12 million in research grants and awards, CRI has made substantial strides in the fight against breast cancer.  

A remarkable achievement to these efforts is the groundbreaking Phase 1/2 clinical trial (NCT02643303), funded by CRI, which has proven the safety and efficacy of combination therapy involving multiple immunotherapy drugs in treating advanced breast cancer. Our esteemed scientific board member, Nina Bharadwaj, MD, PhD (Mount Sinai), played a pivotal role as the co-chair of this trial. 

Presently, CRI is funding a dynamic group of researchers focused on breast cancer. Their efforts span the development of cancer vaccines, clinical trials for combination therapies, exploration of the efficacy of existing immunotherapies based on cancer mutations, and strategies to improve patient outcomes. Drs. Maxime Meylan, PhD (Dana-Farber Cancer Institute) and Chi-Yun Wu, PhD (The J. David Gladstone Institutes), CRI-funded Immuno-informatics Postdoctoral Fellows, are employing bioinformatics and immunology to investigate how different cells within triple-negative breast cancers influence the immune response during treatment, paving the way for more personalized and effective therapies. CRI is also funding two CRI Lloyd J. Old STAR awardees, a clinical Investigator, a postdoctoral fellow, and a Tech Impact Award recipient for their research on breast cancer. 

A New Hope 

Immunotherapy represents a class of treatments that capitalize on the patient’s own immune system to target and eradicate cancer cells. Various immunotherapies have emerged as promising options for breast cancer patients, thanks to dedicated efforts of scientists and support from dedicated nonprofits like CRI. 

One approach involves targeted antibodies, such as Margetuximab-cmkb (Margenza™), Trastuzumab (Herceptin®), Trastuzumab emtansine (Kadcyla®), Trastuzumab deruxtecan (Enhertu®), and Sacituzumab govitecan (Trodelvy®), which focus on the HER2 pathway or TROP-2 pathway. These therapies have demonstrated efficacy, particularly in cases with high HER2 expression levels, but there remains a pressing need for better treatment options for patients with other subtypes of breast cancer. 

Immunomodulators like Dostarlimab (Jemperli) and Pembrolizumab (Keytruda®) are checkpoint inhibitors targeting the PD1/PDL1 pathway and have received approval for specific subsets of breast cancer patients, including those with advanced disease or genetic markers. Such markers could be high tumor mutation burden, presence of instable microsatellite regions in DNA (MSI-H), and DNA mismatch repair deficiency (dMMR). However, new therapeutic strategies for different subtypes and patient groups are needed to effectively fight breast cancer. 

Breast cancer remains a formidable adversary, but CRI is tirelessly empowering seasoned immunologists offering new hope and a path forward in the fight against this devastating disease. As CRI-funded researchers continue their tireless efforts, CRI is grateful for the generous empowerment from its donors and patrons. The generous support for CRI, and its efforts against breast cancer, has the potential to create a world immune to cancer. 

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