Researchers develop Goldilocks drug to treat triple-negative breast cancer

Researchers develop Goldilocks drug to treat triple-negative breast cancer


After decades of research and two previous drug development attempts, things are looking promising for a team of University of Arizona researchers working on a less toxic treatment for a specific type of breast cancer.

The researchers have developed a drug compound that appears to stop cancer cell growth in what’s known as triple-negative breast cancer. The drug, which has not yet been tested in humans, has been shown to eliminate tumors in mice, with little to no effect on normal healthy cells, making it potentially nontoxic for patients.

The therapy is based on a newly discovered way that a gene known as epidermal growth factor receptor, or EGFR, leads to cancer. EGFR is a long-investigated oncogene — a gene that in certain circumstances can transform a cell into a tumor cell.

The researchers’ findings are published in the journal Cancer Gene Therapy, and the team is working to get Food and Drug Administration approval to test the compound in phase 1 clinical trials in humans.

Triple-negative breast cancer accounts for about 10 to 15% of all breast cancers. Triple-negative refers to the fact that the cancer cells test negative for the three other types of breast cancer — those driven by too much estrogen, too much progesterone or too much of a protein called HER2, according to the American Cancer Society. Triple-negative breast cancer is more common in women under 40 who are Black or who have a specific mutation in a gene called BRCA1. About half of all cases of triple-negative breast cancer overexpress the EGFR oncogene, according to the National Institutes for Health.

The UArizona researchers devised a compound that blocks EGFR from going to a part of the cell that drives survival of the cancer. The compound shuts down functioning of the EGFR protein that acts in cancer cells but not normal cells.

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