The University of Sheffield in the UK has initiated a clinical trial to evaluate a combination of two existing drugs to treat incurable secondary breast cancer, or metastatic or stage 4 breast cancer.
The drugs, namely avelumab and radium-223, are currently used separately to treat certain prostate, renal and skin cancers.
Avelumab is an immunotherapy drug that acts on the PD-L 1 protein present in some cancer cells.
Radium-223 is a radioactive drug that is absorbed by bone cells and hence could deliver the treatment closer to the target site, within the body near to the tumour.
Avelumab is currently used for some types of secondary renal and secondary skin cancers while radium-223 is used for prostate cancer treatment upon its spread to the bones.
The latest trial is the first use of the drugs’ combination in breast cancer treatment.
It will test the ability of the combination to improve outcomes in women whose breast cancer has spread to other body parts, by shrinking the tumours.
Sheffield University professor Janet Brown will lead the study while the Leeds Clinical Trials Research Unit will run it. The trial will involve 42 participants.
Secondary breast cancer develops when the cancer cells spread from the breast, via the lymphatic or blood system to other body parts, or secondary sites.
Nearly 99% of women whose breast cancer is detected at stage one will survive for five years or more after diagnosis, but this figure drops to 27% for those diagnosed with secondary breast cancer.
Professor Brown said: “Although radium-223 and avelumab are approved for the treatment of other cancers, they have not been previously used in combination for breast cancer patients.
“We hope that this trial will see this combination treatment improve the immune response to secondary breast cancer in the bones and other sites in the body, as earlier research has suggested it could.”
The trial is funded by the Breast Cancer Now Catalyst Programme, which received an independent grant from Pfizer.