Triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) is one of the most aggressive forms of the disease and is very difficult to treat. Because the cancer cells don’t feed off of progesterone, estrogen, or the protein HER2, standard treatments like hormone therapy and HER2-targeted therapies don’t work.
In fact, there is no targeted therapy for this type of breast cancer, which affects up to 20% of women with breast cancer and typically is prevalent in younger patients. The options available to them are chemotherapy and surgery — but the chance of recurrence is high.
Hopefully not for long, though; a new vaccine to prevent recurrence of TNBC is in clinical trials.
“Over the last year we spent quite a bit of time evaluating a protein that is called the folate receptor alpha protein,” said Edith Perez, M.D., a main partner on this research. “We studied it in a variety of tumor types here in the laboratory at Mayo and we identified that in approximately 80% of all the cases of triple negative breast cancer, this protein was over-expressed.”
In essence, most TNBC tumors have an excess of folate receptor alpha (which absorbs folic acid, an essential vitamin). In some patients, these receptors spark a natural immune response in the body — but the cancer’s strength typically dwarfs the body’s reaction, and the tumor continues to grow.
This new vaccine is, quite simply, designed to boost the immune system so that it has a rigorous response to folate receptors and blocks access to them. This will enable the body to kill off the tumor and, in turn, prevent recurrence.
Lead by the principal researcher who designed the vaccine, Keith Knutson, Ph.D., phase 1 involved 22 patients. This phase is primarily used to assess the safety of the trial. Phase 1 was a success, as the vaccine did not trigger autoimmunity (where the immune system turns against the body’s own cells and tissues), as some vaccines are known to do.
In early 2016, it will move into phase 2, enrolling 280 patients at various clinical sites. Mayo Clinic recently received $13.3 million in funds to make this happen. Working with Knutson as a partner and principal investigator for this research is Edith Perez, M.D.
Eligible patients for the trial are those who have had triple negative breast cancer tumors (that have already been removed) that have an over-abundance of folic acid receptors. For questions about getting involved in this clinical trial or others, call the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center at 1-855-776-0015 or visit Mayo Clinic’s volunteer page here.
Read our blog here to learn about another promising vaccine!