Predicting drug response of molecular clones in triple-negative breast cancer

Giving triple-negative breast cancer patients new hope drives project by clinician-scientist awardee who will draw on Network members’ knowledge and expertise

Triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) is an aggressive subtype of breast cancer that tends to affect women under the age of 40 and is more prevalent amongst Black and Hispanic women. Although it often responds to initial chemotherapy, it has a high risk of recurrence and metastasis, leading to a poor prognosis.

For Dr. Long Nguyen, a medical oncologist and scientist at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, who frequently see patients with this disease, addressing current gaps in treatment is imperative to give new hope to patients diagnosed with this disease. 

“Some of my patients are quite young, and it's devastating to see currently available treatments not work as effectively as we would hope,’” he says.

It got him thinking:  Is there a way we can predict their response to specific therapies so we can personalize their treatments? Or could we better understand why they’re not responding to their therapies and find ways to improve that response?

Answering these questions is a priority for his new project, funded with a Marathon of Hope Cancer Centres Network (MOHCCN) Clinician-Scientist Award. Worth a total of $450,000 over three years, the award will help Dr. Nguyen create a tool that could predict how patients with TNBC will respond to current treatments.

“This project is about finding new ways to use the genetic information available from patient’s cancers to predict how well certain treatments for TNBC will work,” he says. “The goal is to define specific features associated with a patient’s cancer that can be used to predict response to treatment in future patients.”

As part of the project, Dr. Nguyen will create a biobank of tumours from TNBC patients treated across Canada. He will then sequence these tumours and create models that replicate them in mice. This will allow him to test how tumours respond to two forms of TNBC drugs – carboplatin (a chemotherapy commonly used in the metastatic setting), and sacituzumab govitecan (a novel antibody drug conjugate) – and use new computational tools to see if drug response correlates to specific genomic features.

He will work closely with pan-Canadian collaborators who are already a part of the MOHCCN to enhance his project with their knowledge and expertise. These experts include Dr. Morag Park (MOH-Q), Dr. Samuel Aparicio (BC2C) and Drs. Lillian Siu and Phil Bedard (PM2C).

“I’ve been lucky in my career to train across Canada with some of the best minds in cancer research and care, who happen to be a part of the Marathon of Hope Cancer Centres Network,” says Dr. Nguyen. “Now that I have my own lab and clinical practice, I’m excited to reconnect with these mentors to help accelerate precision medicine for patients with TNBC.”

Ultimately, Dr. Nguyen’s goal is to generate new knowledge that will eventually help provide TNBC patients with the right treatment at the right time for their particular cancer. “Precision medicine for these patients may still be a few years down the line, but understanding and predicting therapy response is the first step to making it a reality,” he says.

The MOHCCN will provide $225,000 award over three years, which will be matched by the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre for a total $450,000.