Personalized Breast Cancer Program
University of Cambridge, Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute
Breast cancer is the second most common cancer and the main cause of death from cancer in women worldwide. Even though the number of patients surviving for five or more years after diagnosis is increasing, this disease still kills almost 500,000 women every year worldwide. At present, patients receive treatment based on the results of the microscopic examination of their tumour tissue, which is still very much a ‘one-size-fits-all approach’. It is unfortunately very difficult to predict which treatment will be effective for an individual patient ahead of time. Better ways to target and individualise treatments are urgently needed.
In response to this challenge, the CRUK Cambridge Cancer Centre has launched the Personalised Breast Cancer Program (PBCP), which aims to learn how to personalise cancer treatment by looking at the normal and tumour DNA of 2,250 breast cancer patients. The CRUK Cambridge Centre is uniquely positioned to deliver such an ambitious study, with a dynamic collaboration of researchers, clinicians, and the pharmaceutical and biotech industries.
Program Goals and Expected Outcomes
It is hoped that the PBCP will take research on breast cancer to the next level in order to drive forward the development of personalised cancer medicine. The research team aims to facilitate new discoveries that will help them understand why some people are cured of their cancer, and others are not, and why some people experience more side-effects than others. It will also provide an important platform for trainees of all specialities to develop the skills required to interpret genomic data. In addition, the PBCP will support doctors and researchers to develop new drugs and diagnostic tests, and by creating the infrastructure to report genetic information back to patients, the program is helping to transform NHS practice for the future, with the goal of developing “genomic medicine” within the NHS, to benefit all cancer patients as standard.
What gaps in existing knowledge will be addressed by the study?
Some studies have looked at the influence of large genomic data in late stage solid tumours and advanced breast cancer. However, despite these efforts, no other studies have focussed on the introduction of Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS) into the management of patients in all stages of breast cancer. The PBCP will allow us to explore the clinical utility of WGS for the first time in breast cancer, from the real-world setting of a National Health Service (NHS) Oncology Unit. This project will offer detailed data regarding the clinical application of genomic profiling when used on a daily basis for breast cancer care. In addition, the PBCP will also investigate how the development of personalised molecular signatures and individualised “barcoding” of tumours will further improve patient-specific treatment. Recent evidence clearly shows that a large number of patients receiving treatment for breast cancer are being over-treated (with the unpleasant side effects this brings). Consequently, identifying patients who really require treatment, and avoiding treatment in patients who are unlikely to benefit is still a challenge.
Lead Consultant Breast Pathologist
Senior Research Associate
Senior Associate Scientist