There was a need to improve treatments for luminal B breast cancers, which are a more aggressive type of ER-positive breast cancer, associated with a poorer prognosis, says Professor Visvader.
In the study, the researchers used preclinical models of breast tumour samples donated by Melbourne women undergoing cancer surgery to understand how real human cancers would respond to the treatment.
"We are excited by these results and what they could mean for women with breast cancer," Professor Visvader said. "ER-positive breast cancers are the most common type of breast cancer, so even a small improvement could have a substantial impact if more effective upfront treatment could prevent relapse," she said. "It is very early days, however, and the findings will need to be rigorously tested in clinical studies."
A landmark discovery in the late 1980s by Walter and Eliza Hall Institute scientists that BCL-2 promoted cell survival fuelled more than two decades of global research that has culminated in the design of BH3-mimetics. The investigational compound, ABT-199/GDC-0199, was discovered by scientists at Abbott (now AbbVie) and is currently being developed by Genentech, a member of the Roche group, and AbbVie.
Professor Lindeman said he hoped the recently established Centre for Translational Breast Cancer Research (TransBCR) could contribute to future clinical trials of the novel combination treatment. "Australian women who donated their tumour samples for research helped make this discovery possible," he said. "It would be great to see Australians among the first to benefit from clinical trials, should they proceed."