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Team Plans To Target Oncogene To Selectively Kill Breast Cancer Cells

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The University of Helsinki led research project that partners with the University of California, San Francisco, was awarded a Breast Cancer Research Program Breakthrough grant from the US Department of Defense.

The University of Helsinki led research project will advance research that aims to bring new MYC based therapies from the laboratory bench to the help of patients suffering from metastatic breast cancer. The grant* helps to advance research on breast cancer, but it also fosters collaboration between the European and Californian cancer patient organizations. 

Some cancer genes that help cancer grow also create weak spots in the cancer cells, which can be exploited with new drugs. In the breast cancer, MYC cancer gene reprograms cells to grow without pause but the uncontrolled growth also makes MYC carrying cancer cells prey to many different types of drugs.

“Researchers are getting better at finding drugs to target such specific cancer gene created vulnerabilities, and we hope to generate next generation cancer drugs that would kill only cancer cells but leave normal cells unharmed. Even further, we hope that these new drugs would also incite the body’s immunity to fight cancer”, says the study leader, FICAN Research Professor Juha Klefström, Ph.D from the University of Helsinki.

“Our joint groups at the University of Helsinki and UCSF have discovered that the MYC oncogene is associated with poor breast cancer patient outcomes and resistance to immunotherapies.  The Breakthrough Award will allow us to discover improved treatments that seek to selectively kill high-MYC tumor cells and improve response to immune treatments.  We anticipate that these studies will lead to new clinical trials to treat patients with these especially aggressive and difficult to treat MYC high breast cancers”, states study co-leader Professor Andrei Goga, M.D, Ph.D from the University of California, San Francisco.

The project will be implemented in close collaboration with patient advocacy groups in the US and in Finland, exploring new ways to communicate science to patients and the public.

“It is great that this important topic is being studied and new treatments are being sought for this fatal disease. Breast cancer is the most common cause of cancer deaths in women of working age”, says Anu Niemi, Executive Director of the Breast Cancer Association Europa Donna Finland.

This unique project brings together dedicated teams of researchers, clinicians and advocates, aiming at elucidating a mechanistic role for MYC in regulating the anti-tumor immune response and providing new therapeutic approaches for aggressive breast cancers.

*Department of Defence Breast Cancer Research Program (BCRP) Breakthrough Award W81XWH2110773

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