Susan G. Komen®, the world’s leading breast cancer organization, announced today the awarding of $1.5 million for three new research projects that examine three unique areas focused on metastatic breast cancer (MBC). The grants are part of the Susan G. Komen Metastatic Breast Cancer Collaborative Research Initiative, an innovative, first-of-its-kind collaboration between Komen, the University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and Duke Cancer Institute. The initiative is an effort to pair researchers from each of the organizations to work together to address significant gaps in our knowledge about MBC to advance patient care and improve patient outcomes.
“We know that finding the cures for breast cancer will only be accomplished by working together through innovative research,” said Paula Schneider, Komen’s president and CEO. “It’s this strong belief in the power of collaboration to advance discovery that led to this novel partnership between some of the leading researchers at two institutions that are known for their rivalry.”
These three grants fall under Komen’s two primary research priorities, which are to find new ways to prevent, detect and treat metastatic and aggressive breast cancers, as well as to understand and overcome the inequities that lead certain people and communities to have higher rates of mortality from breast cancer.
“This bold investment by Komen and its supporters is aimed at changing our fundamental understanding of metastatic breast cancer,” said UNC Lineberger Director Shelley Earp, MD. “Combining the creative minds of two of the country’s premier cancer centers is the way to probe the longstanding problem of breast cancer spread. Each of these approaches will yield groundbreaking knowledge to develop better, more effective treatments by harnessing a patient’s own immune system and will identify the biological and societal drivers that contribute to disparities in breast cancer outcomes among Black and white women.”
“We are very grateful to Susan G. Komen for their long-term dedication to improving approaches to the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer,” said Michael B. Kastan, MD, PhD, executive director of the Duke Cancer Institute. “Metastatic breast cancer remains a major challenge and this visionary funding mechanism brings together outstanding investigators and physicians from two neighboring institutions in collaborative projects that will make a difference for women in the state of North Carolina and around the country.”
Research project grants
Breast Cancer Disparities Collaborative Research Grant
Thanks to a $500,000 lead gift by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (Blue Cross NC), the Susan G. Komen and Blue Cross NC Metastatic Breast Cancer Disparities Collaborative Research Grant was awarded to a research team led by Jennifer Freedman, PhD, and Steven Patierno, PhD, of Duke Cancer Institute, and Katie Hoadley, PhD, of UNC Lineberger, who were awarded the grant to investigate how the ancestry of different populations impacts the immune response to metastatic breast cancer.
The study leaders identified biological differences in certain genetic events (called RNA splicing) in tumors between those with African versus European ancestry. The team seeks to determine if these differences cause breast cancer cells to grow and spread more quickly in patients of African descent and contribute to higher metastasis and death rates among Black women. Improved understanding of these underlying molecular mechanisms may lead the way to better treatments and outcomes.
“We know that the health of our state depends on the health of all our communities – and to improve health equity, we must take a closer look at the factors that drive the disparities between Black women and metastatic breast cancer,” said Kia Williams, MD, MSPH, associate medical director at Blue Cross NC. “We are excited to support Komen and researchers at UNC and Duke and eagerly await the invaluable scientific contributions to come from this collaborative effort.”
North Carolina’s Metastatic Breast Cancer Collaborative Research Grant
Thanks to a $500,000 gift by Gilead Sciences, Inc., the Susan G. Komen and Gilead Sciences, Inc. for North Carolina’s Metastatic Breast Cancer Collaborative Research Grant was awarded to a research team led by Melissa Troester, PhD, of UNC Lineberger and Terry Hyslop, PhD, of Duke Cancer Institute for their project that will seek to use information on tumor biology and social factors in UNC’s long-standing Carolina Breast Cancer Study (CBCS) to understand racial differences in breast cancer metastasis and death. Researchers will also evaluate how life stress contributes to higher metastasis rates and worse breast cancer outcomes in Black women when compared to white women. They aim to develop specific interventions to reduce metastasis that consider multiple factors from basic biology to societal factors to order to improve outcomes for Black women.
“As metastatic breast cancer disproportionately impacts Black women, this innovative research to better understand evidence-based solutions to improve outcomes for Black women is crucial,” said Bill Grossman, MD, PhD, Senior Vice President, Oncology Therapeutics, Gilead Sciences. “Gilead is proud to support Susan G. Komen in these much-needed efforts.”
Supporting triple negative breast cancer research
Thanks to funds raised by individuals and organizations in North Carolina and across the country, Komen awarded a research team led by Benjamin Vincent, MD, of UNC Lineberger and Zachary Hartman, PhD, of Duke Cancer Institute with a $500,000 grant for their project to develop a personalized anti-tumor vaccine strategy for patients with advanced Triple Negative Breast Cancer that would mobilize the body’s immune system (T cells) to shut down tumor growth and metastasis.
Spearheaded by Komen Development Director Pam Kohl, who is living with MBC, the Komen Collaborative Metastatic Research Initiative seeks to raise funds with the hope of accelerating discovery by connecting leading researchers from these two leading institutions. These three grants are the initial awards from this initiative. Those interested in supporting additional collaborations can donate at www.komen.org/mbccollaborative.
“Currently, there is no cure for MBC and the treatments are difficult at best,” said Kohl. “Research is HOPE for the far too many of us who are living with MBC. This disease is smart, and it is relentless, but I know that these brilliant researchers at UNC and Duke will work every day to help give us the gift of time.”
About Susan G. Komen®
Susan G. Komen® is the world’s leading nonprofit breast cancer organization, working to save lives and end breast cancer forever. Komen has an unmatched, comprehensive 360-degree approach to fighting this disease across all fronts and supporting millions of people in the U.S. and in countries worldwide. We advocate for patients, drive research breakthroughs, improve access to high-quality care, offer direct patient support and empower people with trustworthy information. Founded by Nancy G. Brinker, who promised her sister, Susan G. Komen, that she would end the disease that claimed Suzy’s life, Komen remains committed to supporting those affected by breast cancer today, while tirelessly searching for tomorrow’s cures. Visit komen.org or call 1-877 GO KOMEN. Connect with us on social at www.komen.org/social.