CANCER RESEARCH MALAYSIA, UNIVERSITY MALAYA LAUNCHES CLINICAL TRIAL FOR MORE EFFECTIVE BREAST CANCER TREATMENT FOR ASIANS
DEC 3, 2020 @ 9.22AM
"More than half of Asian women inherit a genetic variant (called APOBEC3B), and in these women, breast cancers tend to have a lot of damaged DNA, which suggests that their tumours are more likely to respond to checkpoint immunotherapy", said Professor Datin Paduka Dr Teo Soo Hwang, OBE, Chief Scientific Officer at Cancer Research Malaysia.
Cancer Research Malaysia and Clinical Investigation Centre (CIC) of University Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC) have launched a clinical trial called AUROR, in a study with National University Hospital Singapore, to test if checkpoint immunotherapy is effective for treating breast cancer in Asian patients.
Cancer cells produce invisibility cloaks to hide from our immune system’s “checkpoints”, allowing them to grow and spread. Checkpoint immunotherapy activates the immune system to recognise cancer cells as cells that should be killed, and has already resulted in long-term remission for melanoma, lung, and other cancers, but its effect in breast cancer is still understudied.
“Checkpoint immunotherapy has so far shown to be promising to treat an aggressive form of breast cancer, called triple negative breast cancer, but it is clear that not all patients benefit from this type of treatment. Through research at Cancer Research Malaysia, we now know that more than half of Asian women inherit a genetic variant (called APOBEC3B), and in these women, breast cancers tend to have a lot of damaged DNA, which suggests that their tumours are more likely to respond to checkpoint immunotherapy.
"Importantly, this genetic variant is four times more common in Asians compared to Caucasians. We are now launching this unique clinical trial to test whether checkpoint immunotherapy can indeed improve the treatment response for breast cancer patients with this genetic variant, and this could lead to a new treatment regimen for Asian breast cancer patients,” explained Professor Datin Paduka Dr Teo Soo Hwang, OBE, Chief Scientific Officer at Cancer Research Malaysia, who led the genomics study.
The success of this clinical trial could result in a better standard of care for Asian breast cancer patients and bring us a step closer to personalised medicine.
“In this era of precision medicine, we now know that understanding which patients will respond to which treatments is critical in our effort to save lives. Previously, much of the knowledge about precision medicine has been built based on research on Caucasian patients, and it is a milestone for us in Malaysia to be launching this first clinical trial that is based on genetic markers which are common in Asian women, made possible by research conducted here in Malaysia,” said Associate Professor Dr Ho Gwo Fuang, Consultant Oncologist and Principal Investigator of the AUROR Trial at UMMC.
The importance (and lack) of Asian representation in cancer research
Asians are seldom represented in cancer research. Take breast cancer for example – doctors are now able to determine the type of cancer a patient has and what treatment might work for her. This is possible with the mapping of the human genome done with the analysis of thousands of breast cancer samples from countries such as the US, UK and Canada. Unfortunately, of the thousands of cancer cell samples analysed, less than 5% were from women of Asian descent.
This means that there are still gaps in our understanding of cancers affecting Asians; in knowing how Asian genes affect our risk to disease as well as our response to treatments. Put simply, we test treatments based mainly on Caucasian profiles, and hope they will work equally well in Asians. While this works in most cases, Cancer Research Malaysia believes we can do better.
This under representation of Asians in cancer research around the world is therefore the raison d’etre of Cancer Research Malaysia – to ensure Asians are included in the global fight against cancer by conducting research in niche cancers often found in the Asian population.
“This is the first clinical trial launched in Asia to test a feature of breast cancers using a genetic marker that is more common in Asians. We are working on more such clinical trials and hope that more Malaysians will support the work we do; as a non-profit, we depend on contributions to fund our lifesaving research,” added Dr Pan Jia Wern, co-lead of the genomics programme at Cancer Research Malaysia.
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