Scientists from the BC Cancer Agency and Pfizer Oncology have published the first results of their three-year research collaboration.
The paper, published in the journal Modern Pathology, analyzed the expression of the P-cadherin protein in breast cancer. P-cadherin is involved in controlling the development and function of the normal mammary gland, but may also play a role in breast cancer; a number of small-scale studies had suggested that high levels of the P-cadherin protein are associated with poor survival in breast cancer patients.
The research team took advantage of a unique resource at the BC Cancer Agency—a collection of 3,992 breast tumor samples associated with anonymized clinical information about each patient—to undertake the largest study to date of P-cadherin expression in breast cancer. The large scale of this tissue collection allowed the team to confirm that P-cadherin expression is associated with poor overall and disease-specific survival in breast cancer patients. The scientists also determined that this relationship occurs because P-cadherin is found predominantly in two of the most aggressive forms of breast cancer, HER2 and core basal.
“Our study shows for the first time, and definitively in a large tissue microarray series, that P-cadherin expression is a strong prognostic factor in breast cancer,” explains the study’s lead author, Dr. Gulisa Turashvili of the BC Cancer Agency. “However, the prognostic association is not independent of tumour subtype and other variables; P-cadherin expression is strongly associated with HER2-positive and basal-type carcinomas, two of the five distinct molecular subtypes of breast cancer. This has important implications for the use of P-cadherin as a subtype marker and therapeutic target.”
“These results help clarify the relationship of P-cadherin expression and survival in breast cancer patients and may motivate targeting anti-p-cad therapy as part of a precision medicine strategy,” says Paul Rejto, Director, Pfizer R&D Oncology. He added, “this partnership between Pfizer and the BC Cancer Agency has proven to deliver high-quality science that we are using to potentially help patients in the future.”
The collaboration between Pfizer Oncology and the BC Cancer Agency began in 2009, with the aim of leveraging each partner’s unique expertise and resources to identify new biomarkers and treatment targets for breast and ovarian cancer. The P-cadherin study highlights the benefits of this collaborative approach. Pfizer helped to fund the study, and their scientists were involved in the analysis of the data, which was generated and analyzed at the BC Cancer Agency.
“These partnerships highlight the importance of private-public collaborations and ensure that local Canadian researchers have the support they need to conduct innovative work in the area of oncology,” said Richard Fajzel, General Manager, Oncology Business Unit at Pfizer Canada.
Dr. Sam Aparicio, lead investigator on the P-cadherin study and Nan and Lorraine Robertson Breast Cancer Chair at the BC Cancer Agency and University of British Columbia, said, “We are excited to see the first result from our collaborative work with Pfizer reach fruition with the potential for a positive impact on the development of new medicines for breast cancer patients.”