Researchers at The Institute of Cancer Research were responsible for one of the most significant ever discoveries in cancer genetics - identifying the BRCA2 gene. The discovery of this gene has helped thousands of people with a history of breast cancer in their family get tested and assess their risk of developing the disease.
Understanding how the gene is implicated in the development of breast cancer has helped in the development of therapies which target BRCA2-associated cancers and in developing genetic tests that calculate cancer risk.
ICR researchers have led studies that have brought about the development of new breast cancer drugs.
For example, researchers at the ICR and our partner hospital, The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, played a leading role in the clinical development of a class of hormonal drugs called aromatase inhibitors, which are now a mainstay of breast cancer treatment in post-menopausal women.
ICR research underpinned the development of PARP inhibitors including olaparib, which is now used in the treatment of BRCA-positive ovarian cancer and has shown promising results in trials in breast cancer.
We have recently led trials that have established the effectiveness of the chemotherapy drug carboplatin – discovered at the ICR – in triple-negative breast cancer, and of the targeted drug palbociclib in advanced, metastatic breast, marking one of the biggest advances in treatment for women with advanced breast cancer in the last two decades. More than 90,000 patients have already been prescribed palbociclib.
Researchers at the ICR are developing new tests to detect breast cancer and predict which patients are likely to see their disease recur and spread. Identifying the risk of relapse at the earliest signs will help clinicians get patients into treatment sooner, and get ahead of cancer before it has a chance to spread.
For example, we have pioneered the development of ‘liquid biopsies’ – blood tests that can detect the spread of cancer more quickly than other current methods.
ICR researchers have also been responsible for transforming radiotherapy treatment for breast cancer – through leading the development of new, modern forms of radiotherapy and by leading clinical trials.
The START trial, co-led by the ICR and The Royal Marsden, showed that women could safely undergo fewer, larger doses of chemotherapy than previously while gaining the same benefit in terms of cancer control, and reducing side-effects.