Article

New hope for triple-negative breast cancer patients

When Eva Joseph was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer that had spread to her lungs and sternum, she believed it was a death sentence. 

“I was terrified,” Eva, 72, recalls of her second bout with this highly aggressive disease that has a poor prognosis. “I thought I would be dead in a week. I didn’t know anyone who survived stage IV cancer.”

But a Roche cancer immunotherapy medicine paired with a Roche companion diagnostic test - the only combination approved for triple-negative breast cancer patients globally - has brought new hope to patients like Eva.

“This is amazing,” says this mom and retired businesswoman, whose tumours have nearly vanished. “I feel it’s a blessing that I am able to receive treatment that just wasn’t there for so many others before me. I wouldn’t be here without it.”

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women, with 2.1 million patients diagnosed worldwide each year.1 About 300,000 people are diagnosed annually with triple-negative breast cancer,2 which is more likely to occur in Black women.3

A diagnosis of triple-negative breast cancer means that the three most common proteins associated with breast cancer growth – estrogen receptor, progesterone receptor and HER2/neu – are not expressed in the tumour, making it difficult to treat.

When Eva heard her cancer, which was originally detected in 2002, had come back with a vengeance, she thought she was out of treatment options. Her oncologist, however, told her about new research, and Eva was one of about 900 patients to enroll in a groundbreaking trial.
 

Unleashing the immune system

 

The study determined that triple-negative breast cancer patients who tested positive for the PD-L1 biomarker with the Roche companion diagnostic test and were treated with the Roche cancer immunotherapy along with a specific chemotherapy had a significantly reduced risk of disease worsening or death by 38 percent compared with chemotherapy alone.

PD-L1, a common protein, can deactivate the body’s natural ability to fight cancer cells. Immunotherapies like the one developed by Roche, however, can unleash the immune system to attack and kill cancer cells.

Eva, who has been treated with the immunotherapy since 2015, experiences manageable side effects, which is far different from her first diagnosis. “In 2002 I had a mastectomy, followed by chemotherapy and radiation. I was nauseous all the time and so tired. I could barely walk.”

Best of all, the treatment is working. 

“After several rounds of treatment, I began to feel stronger and my scans showed that the tumours in my lungs and sternum were shrinking.”

Testing and treatment innovations have given hope to patients like Eva, who lives in Oregon with Dwight, who she married 50 years ago.

“I was so scared when I got my diagnosis. I couldn't think straight. But here we are five years later, and I’m feeling good.”
 

A step toward turning cancer into a chronic disease

Roche has led research into breast cancer for decades, pushing the boundaries of science to develop tests and targeted therapies which have saved lives. While there is much work to be done to treat patients long-term, these new testing and therapy options are another step in Roche’s journey toward finding cures or turning cancer into a chronic disease.

“Metastatic triple-negative breast cancer is a very difficult-to-treat form of breast cancer,” said Dirk-Jan Paans, part of the Roche Pharma team that developed the immunotherapy. “The introduction of immunotherapy into the treatment of metastatic triple-negative breast cancer is great news for patients.”

Christoph Majewski, a member of the Roche Diagnostics team that developed the test, said a diagnosis of triple-negative breast cancer has long been difficult news for doctors to deliver to patients.

“Because breast cancer occurs so frequently, many of us have family and friends who have been impacted,” Christoph said. “It is close to the heart for us, and we see how we are making a difference by delivering an assay that provides access to new treatment options.”

 

The road to change in cancer care

 

This remarkable Pharmaceutical/Diagnostics partnership has led to better care for patients like Eva, who is passionate about her family, spending time in her gorgeous garden and spreading the word about new testing and treatment options. Eva and Dwight have rallied in support of cancer research funding, speaking with policymakers as healthcare advocates.

“I want to tell everyone I can that there is help and there is hope,” Eva said. “I can help others. I can give information, and that gives hope to people like me with triple-negative breast cancer.

We have hope.”

References

 

  1. World Health Organization: https://www.who.int/cancer/prevention/diagnosis-screening/breast-cancer/en/
  2. Bray F, Ferlay J, et al. Global cancer statistics 2018: GLOBOCAN estimates of incidence and mortality worldwide for 36 cancers in 185 countries. CA Cancer J Clin. 2018;68(6):394-424.
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/dcpc/research/articles/breast_cancer_rates_women.htm