2012 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium – Clinical Trials

Members of Komen’s Research, Evaluation and Scientific Teams were out in force at the recent San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, including Komen’s Scientific Grants Manager Krissa Smith, who reports on a session about the importance of clinical trials. 

As the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium wrapped up last week, we had the opportunity to hear from the world’s leading clinicians and basic researchers on the progress of their efforts to improve current treatments for breast cancer.  This included a review of results of recent clinical trials into newly developed drugs or combinations of already approved therapies – all in an effort to move the needle toward personalized treatment for women and men facing breast cancer.

We were pleased to see so many Komen-funded researchers and members of our scientific team presenting at this major international conference, and especially excited about what we are learning in terms of personalizing breast cancer treatment.

The conference wrapped Friday with a general session on clinical trials targeting HER2, moderated by Komen’s Chief Scientific Advisor, Dr. George Sledge.

One of the great breakthroughs in breast cancer research was the identification of the HER2 receptor found on some breast cancer cells and the later development of the drug trastuzumab that targets HER2, also known as Herceptin.  HER2 is now used as a marker that clinicians utilize to classify breast cancer subtypes and, using trastuzumab, to treat specific cancer subtypes.

Researchers have developed a second antibody – called pertuzumab — that combined with trastuzumab is used to target HER2.  Komen Scholar Jose Baselga  presented the results of the CLEOPATRA trial that evaluated the combined treatment of trastuzumab plus pertuzumab, published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The study concluded that by adding pertuzumab to the treatment, patient survival was significantly improved.  Researchers also found that mutations in a gene called PI3KCA indicated a worse prognosis for breast cancer patients in this trial.  However, anti-HER2 treatment was beneficial for patients with or without the PI3KCA mutation and the results of this trial indicate that this new treatment combination would be beneficial for HER2+ breast cancer patients.

Other clinical trials presented in this session evaluated the duration of trastuzumab treatment. Komen Scholar Alumnus Aron Goldhirsch was involved in the HERA trial presented later Friday morning that investigated if treating patients for longer than one year with trastuzumab – the current standard – affected patient survival, or if two years would be more effective. The conclusion from this trial is that there is no significant increase in overall survival for patients who received two years of treatment, even after eight years of follow-up, and confirms one year as the standard of care.

Because there may be some cardiac side effects, a second trial (PHARE) evaluated whether trastuzumab could be given for only six months with the same benefits.  This trial indicated that patients who received six months of treatment had a similar survival compared to patients treated for a year.  While further work needs to be done, these results are encouraging because they indicate that trastuzumab treatment duration could actually be reduced.

These reports were encouraging to us at Komen because they allow doctors and researchers to home in on ways to personalize treatments for women and men with breast cancer – a far cry from the “one size fits all” treatment approach that existed for breast cancer patients when we started our work at Komen in 1982.  Our research portfolio over 30 years has grown to more than $750 million – second only to the U.S. government.  And our focus now is on results that can be taken from the lab to the bedside, to consumers and patients, in the shortest period of time.

Thanks to all of our supporters who have helped us fund the most respected breast cancer researchers in the world.

About the author

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Susan G. Komen has written 289 articles for Susan G. Komen® | Blog

Nancy G. Brinker promised her dying sister, Susan G. Komen, she would do everything in her power to end breast cancer forever. In 1982, that promise became Susan G. Komen and launched the global breast cancer movement. Today, Komen is the world’s largest grassroots network of breast cancer survivors and activists fighting to save lives, empower people, ensure quality care for all and energize science to find the cures. Thanks to events like the Komen Race for the Cure®, we have invested more than $1.9 billion to fulfill our promise, becoming the largest source of nonprofit funds dedicated to the fight against breast cancer in the world.