Nothing mentioned, nothing gained

New hope for breast cancer as Irish Cancer Society asks people to ‘Paint It Pink’ for October

I am unspeakably proud to have worked on research which has the potential to make a real difference for women with advanced HER2-positive breast cancer and which received widespread media coverage in Ireland last month. It is important to stress that high quality research is never carried out by one person working alone: while I was the focus of much of the press coverage, this progress was made by a whole team of researchers in Prof Bryan Hennessy’s lab group, based in the Department of Molecular Medicine at Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. Research like this is only possible thanks to people donating to cancer charities; thank you to anyone who has ever dropped a coin into a box or bought a daffodil, as well as to people who have been able to make larger donations. You have all made such a difference.

Some press clippings of the coverage of this research, following the launch of the 'Paint It Pink' campaign last month.

Some press clippings of the coverage of this research, following the launch of the ‘Paint It Pink’ campaign last month.


From the Irish Cancer Society:


Research funded by the Irish Cancer Society paves way for new breast cancer treatment to be trialled in Ireland
– Irish Cancer Society launch new ‘Paint it Pink’ campaign to raise money to fight breast cancer

Research funded by the Irish Cancer Society is paving the way for a new and more effective breast cancer treatment to be trialled for the first time in Ireland. As the Irish Cancer Society launches its 2015 breast cancer campaign, Paint it Pink, it is delighted to showcase a significant research study that brings fresh hope to breast cancer patients with a particularly aggressive form of the disease, who are resistant to current therapies.

Irish Cancer Society Research Scholar, Naomi Elster, under the guidance of Professor Bryan Hennessy and Dr Alex Eustace at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI), tested the efficacy of a new type of cancer drug, copanlisib, developed by pharmaceutical company, Bayer. This research revealed that the drug acts as a signal blocker in cancer cells and holds promise of stemming the growth and spread of cancer cells when used in combination with standard therapies for HER2-positive breast cancer, such as Herceptin. This discovery is now paving the way for this drug to be tested in advanced HER2 breast cancer patients when a clinical trial gets underway in Ireland later this year. It will be the first time that this promising new treatment combination will be made available to treatment-resistant breast cancer patients in Ireland.

The commencement of this new clinical trial comes as the Irish Cancer Society launches its breast cancer campaign, Paint it Pink. The campaign is calling on men and women throughout Ireland to come together in the fight against breast cancer by holding a Paint it Pink fundraiser this October. The campaign raises money for the Society’s work across breast cancer funding vital research, advocacy and nationwide services. Anyone who is interested in holding a Paint it Pink event, big or small, this October, should visit http://www.paintitpink.ie for further information.

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Explaining the importance of this research, Irish Cancer Society Research Scholar Naomi Elster said, “This Irish Cancer Society-funded research has, for the first time, shown that this combination of drugs offers greater benefit in halting the growth and spread of breast cancer cells, compared to each of the drugs alone. This combination of drugs has also proven to be effective in breast cancer cells which have become resistant to certain treatments. We are now hopeful that our results will lead to improved treatments for breast cancer patients”.

“The fact that this treatment is now going to clinical trial has the potential to really make a difference where it’s needed; it is aimed at a group of patients that have less treatment options than others. We’re now taking this research a step further by investigating changes in the DNA of the tumours of some cancer patients. By better understanding how cancer works, we can design better treatments for individual patients.”

The clinical trial will be led by Professor Bryan Hennessy, a consultant oncologist at Beaumont Hospital, and overseen by the national cancer clinical trials organisation, the All Ireland Co-operative Oncology Research Group (ICORG). Explaining the significance of the research and clinical trial, Professor Hennessy said, “We are delighted to have played a role in showing that, when used in combination with standard therapies, this drug could prevent resistance to Herceptin thereby increasing the success rate in treating 25% of breast cancers. This is a massive step forward and will help save many more lives. We brought these encouraging results back to Bayer which is now funding a clinical trial to verify the results.”

This research was published in the peer-reviewed journal Breast Cancer Research and Treatment. Elster et al, “A preclinical evaluation of the PI3K alpha/delta dominant inhibitor BAY 80-6946 in HER2-ppsitive breast cancer models with acquired resistance to the HER2-targeted therapies trastuzumab and lapatinib,” 2014. PMID: 25528022


This study is just one example of the world-class research being funded by the Irish Cancer Society, which has embarked on an ambitious strategy to fund collaborative cancer research initiatives to harness the expertise that has evolved in Ireland. As the largest voluntary funder of cancer research in Ireland, the Society has committed €7.5 million alone to BREAST-PREDICT, a collaborative cancer research centre established by the Society to focus specifically on breast cancer. This initiative is bringing together clinicians, scientists, nurses and statisticians in research institutes across the country to increase the pace of discoveries in the breast cancer field.

Commenting on the importance of supporting cancer research Irish Cancer Society, Head of Research, Dr Robert O’Connor said, “The Irish Cancer Society firmly believes that excellent cancer research goes hand in hand with excellent cancer care and so we are delighted to see Naomi, one of our funded research scholars, demonstrating the potential and hope that this new treatment combination will bring to thousands of breast cancer patients in Ireland and beyond.

“This is just one example of the world-class research being funded by the Irish Cancer Society, which is committed to supporting and nurturing leaders in the field of cancer research. BREAST-PREDICT, our first collaborative cancer research initiative, is now about to enter its third year and is continuing to work towards developing more effective treatments and better outcomes for breast cancer patients now and into the future.”

Irish Cancer Society, Chief Executive Officer, John McCormack said: “We are delighted to see that our commitment to cancer research is and will continue to make a real difference. The positive results of this study, which is paving the way for this new treatment to be trialled for the first time in Ireland, clearly demonstrates the importance of funding research as we launch our new breast cancer campaign, Paint it Pink.”

Sinead Gillispie (Donegal) Diarmuid Burke (Dublin) and Rachel Burke (Galway) covered in pink paint with on right Irish Cancer Society Research Scholar Naomi Elster and cancer survivor Sharon Burrell (rear right) at the launch of the Irish Cancer Society's  new ÔPaint it PinkÕ campaign to raise money to fight breast cancer.

Sinead Gillispie (Donegal) Diarmuid Burke (Dublin) and Rachel Burke (Galway) covered in pink paint with on right Irish Cancer Society Research Scholar Naomi Elster and cancer survivor Sharon Burrell (rear right) at the launch of the Irish Cancer Society’s new ÔPaint it PinkÕ campaign to raise money to fight breast cancer.

“This campaign is all about doing something to paint it pink this October whether that is holding a Paint it Pink event or by texting the word ‘Pink’ to 50300 to donate €4 to the Society. We can’t continue our work in the fight against breast cancer without raising significant funds, so we hope men and women across the country will get behind the campaign and paint it pink with us! By supporting campaigns, such as Paint It Pink, you are supporting vital research into new and improved treatments.”

Visit http://www.paintitpink.ie for more information on how to get involved. The Paint it Pink campaign is kindly supported by Ireland’s largest convenience retailer, Centra.

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