Certain therapies that have proven effective in treating some types of breast cancers are ineffective for women diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer (TNBC). In fact, there is limited targeted drug therapy for this type of breast cancer, a rare type diagnosed in only 20 percent of breast cancer patients.
But Notre Dame researcher Siyuan Zhang believes his research team has revealed one possible targeted anti-cancer treatment for TNBC patients. In August 2018, Zhang, the Dee Associate Professor of Biological Sciences who is also affiliated with the Harper Cancer Research Institute, landed a nearly $1.1 million Breast Cancer Research Program Breakthrough Award through the Department of Defense for his project, “Mechanisms of targeting triple-negative breast cancer genomic vulnerability.”
Zhang's research led to a discovery that an FDA-approved treatment previously not known to be effective for breast cancers might kill TNBC tumors when certain conditions are present.
Repurposing FDA-approved drugs for new patient groups is one of Zhang’s passions, and what he looks toward when designing his mechanistic studies of how cancer cells live and die. Not only is it faster to implement the use of a repurposed drug—because developing new drugs and receiving FDA approval for their use can take years— but “for repurposed drugs, we already have a safety profile out there, and know how they work in certain tissue context,” Zhang said.
A journal article about the discovery upon which the grant was based is under review, and is expected to be published in 2019, according to Zhang.