Posted on Nov 08, 2022

Treatment for triple-negative breast cancer will now be available for patients in England

Today, NHS England announced a deal to roll-out the drug pembrolizumab (Keytruda®) for patients with triple-negative breast cancer. When used in combination with chemotherapy pembrolizumab improves the prognosis for patients with this sub-type of cancer. However, it’s vital that diagnostic progress matches the pace of treatment development for patients. Being able to accurately determine the triple-negative subtype will mean that people with breast cancer will be able to access the right treatment for them.

The rapid diagnosis, subtyping and identification of tumours, including those that are triple-negative, is key to the fight against breast cancer. MammaTyperÒ, a well validated RT-PCR assay for same-day subtyping of breast tumours is a key weapon in this battle, if you’d like to find out more about what we are doing, please get in touch. For more detail about triple-negative breast cancer and the implications of today’s announcement, read on.

What is triple-negative breast cancer?

The Gallen consensus group defines 5 molecular subtypes of breast cancer. Each of these has distinct therapy recommendations and clear characteristics in terms of the patient’s prognosis. Triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) is defined by an absence of oestrogen or progesterone receptors (ER or PR) and absence or low levels of the HER2 protein.

Unfortunately, TNBC tends to spread and grow more rapidly. According to the charity Breast Cancer Now, there are over 8,000 cases of TNBC a year in the UK. This type of breast cancer is more common in Black women, pre-menopausal women, those under 40 and those with the mutated BRCA gene.

What is pembrolizumab (Keytruda®)?

Pembrolizumab is a humanised monoclonal anti-programmed cell death-1 (PD-1) antibody. A type of immunotherapy, it targets and blocks a protein called PD-1 on the surface of T-cells. Blocking PD-1 triggers the T-cells to find and kill cancer cells.

Randomised controlled trials report that pembrolizumab with chemotherapy shows significantly better progression-free survival as compared to chemotherapy alone in triple negative breast cancer. The consequences of this are potentially lifesaving.

This drug could also reduce the chance of active cancer being found in the breast tissue and nearby lymph nodes. Which could in turn means that any surgery requiredmay be breast-conserving rather than radical.

After combination chemotherapy, patients receive the drug as an infusion into the bloodstream every three to six weeks for around one year. NHS funding for pembrolizumab means that there will be immediate access for those with triple-negative breast cancer.  NHS England report that pembrolizumab is the 25th breast cancer treatment fast-tracked to patients through funding from the Cancer Drugs Fund. It’s also the second NHS treatment for triple negative breast cancer to be introduced this year, offering further hope to patients living with this breast cancer sub-type.

Improving the diagnostic pathway for patients with aggressive breast cancer

New treatments for previously difficult to treat breast cancer subtypes show great promise. However, diagnostic processes need to keep pace with these developments to match the right patients with the right treatment.

We believe MammaTyper® stands alone as a key step in improving the diagnosis of breast cancer. Want to get involved? Contact us or come and see us next week at MEDICA or EBCC next week.

Vinicio Tassani, Scientific Adviser to Cerca Biotech said “It’s clear that pharmaceutical companies are moving ahead of traditional diagnostics in terms of targeting specific functions and receptors in tumours. What is needed now is for medical diagnostics to embrace RT-PCR technology for routing testing of breast cancer tumours. Only then can we accurately define the best course of treatment for each patient and ensure success from these great advances