Making Metastatic Breast Cancer Research a Priority

By: Stephanie Birkey Reffey | Sr. Director, Evaluation & Outcomes for Susan G. Komen and Co-chair of the Metastatic Breast Cancer Alliance Research Taskforce

Research is just one way Susan G. Komen® and other organizations are working to improve outcomes for those living with metastatic breast cancer (MBC), but it’s perhaps the area with the biggest potential impact.

For example, a 2014 landscape analysis conducted by the Metastatic Breast Cancer Alliance (MBCA, of which Komen is a founding member) found that, over the past decade, only seven percent of government and non-profit research dollars were focused on MBC.  And although Komen’s investment in MBC research is more than double that –18 percent of our total research investment to date  – we’re mindful that more research focused on MBC is needed.

So, a little over a year ago, the MBCA convened a think tank of stakeholders from academia, government, industry and patient advocacy organizations to identify the obstacles, opportunities and priorities for advancing MBC research. Outcomes from that meeting were recently published in the journal Cancer Research, and can be read in full here. Here are a few of the key takeaways:

  • Find new therapies:   New drugs are needed that will prevent metastasis in high-risk patients, shrink existing metastatic lesions or prevent new metastases in patients with limited metastatic disease.  These new therapies will require robust preclinical validation, highlighting the additional need for preclinical model systems that better reflect the metastatic state in humans.
  • Share the Data: Too much research exists in institutional silos rather than benefiting the larger research community and improving outcomes for patients with MBC. The Alliance is working to change these existing norms in academia, government and industry. Komen is leading the way here too, funding innovative ideas like the Metastatic Breast Cancer Project  and the Big Data for Breast Cancer initiative.
  • Get More People into Clinical trials: Clinical trials not only teach us things about science, but can be a lifeline for MBC patients – providing new treatment options when existing options stop working. However, current rules regarding eligibility for trials, can be limiting; for example, excluding patients who have had earlier treatments (which will be the norm for those living with MBC). It’s important to consider the unique needs of those living with MBC and make potentially lifesaving trials available to more patients. The group also agreed that trials should be measuring whether the drug(s) being tested can prevent new metastases or the progression of existing metastases, rather than measuring progression-free survival alone.  
  • Collaboration: From the lab to the clinic, to the patients – every member of the team must be communicating and collaborating. We should see discoveries made in the laboratory being tested in clinical trials, and results from clinical trials informing discovery research. However, in many cases, translational research is a one-way street – with laboratory discoveries moving into the clinic with no communication back to the lab regarding the clinical response.  Open communication between clinical care and research teams could improve access to tissue samples that are desperately needed by the research community and inform the design of preclinical models that better mimic human MBC.

Based on these findings, the MBCA will continue to advocate for greater awareness of MBC and the need for more research, as described above.  In addition, members of the MBCA are working with the National Cancer Institute on a working group exploring MBC trial endpoints.  The MBCA is also exploring the possibility of creating an MBC patient registry to directly address some of the needs identified during the think tank meeting.

Almost everyone who dies of breast cancer dies of metastatic breast cancer, which is why Komen is proud to be a founding member of the MBCA and has made MBC research a priority as part of our Bold Goal to reduce the current number of U.S. breast cancer deaths by 50 percent by 2026.

If you’re living with MBC and interested in clinical trials, check out our Metastatic Trial Search or call our new Clinical Trial Information Helpline at 1-877 GO KOMEN (1-877-465-6636).