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Metastatic Breast Cancer Research: An Area of Focus for BCRF

By BCRF | February 26, 2024

BCRF is the largest private funder of metastatic breast cancer research in the world

Metastatic breast cancer (MBC), also referred to as stage 4 or advanced breast cancer, is incurable and responsible for virtually all breast cancer related deaths, leading to about 43,000 deaths in the U.S. this year.

While we’ve made significant strides in understanding and treating primary breast cancer, we still have much to learn about metastatic breast cancer. Progress has been slow in identifying better treatments and ways to prevent metastasis.

RELATED: Metastatic Breast Cancer Symptoms, Treatments, and More to Know

Metastatic breast cancer research is a major focus for BCRF. In our 2023-24 investment year, BCRF is the largest private funder of stage 4 breast cancer research in the world and is funding 83 projects dedicated to this form of the disease. This investment totals $22.3 million.

These funded projects span every aspect of metastasis including:

  • Understanding the intricacies of the events that lead to cancer cell invasion at the local tissue
  • How cancer cells survive in the circulation and then grow at new sites
  • Identifying new markers to predict the risk of metastasis or new targets for drug development
  • Clinical trials testing new treatments for metastatic breast cancer

Read more about BCRF’s annual investment in metastatic breast cancer research here.

In addition to these projects, BCRF has supported the establishment and research of the Evelyn H. Lauder Founders’ Fund for metastatic breast cancer research.

The Evelyn H. Lauder Founder’s Fund

In 2013, under the direction of Co-Scientific Director Dr. Larry Norton and former Chairman of the Scientific Advisory Board Dr. Clifford Hudis, BCRF established a dedicated fund to support research to specifically address the persistent challenges of breast cancer metastasis. This fund now known as the Evelyn H. Lauder Founder’s Fund, has dedicated $31 million to date to support research that will accelerate discoveries to improve outcomes for people living with metastatic breast cancer and ultimately, prevent metastases altogether.

The centerpiece of the Fund are the AURORA projects, based in Europe and the United States. Inspired by The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA)—which compiled the landmark genomic database of primary tumors—AURORA is building the world’s largest multi-disciplinary repository of matched primary and metastatic tumor data. Deep analysis of metastatic tumor DNA, RNA, and proteins are providing new insights into the processes and mechanisms of stage 4 cancer. This invaluable resource can be mined to fuel future research and help provide answers to questions we haven’t yet formulated.

AURORA EU is based in Brussels and conducted by the Breast International Group (BIG) under the oversight of Dr. Martine Piccart. The objective of AURORA EU is to conduct precise molecular analyses of primary and stage 4 breast cancer samples to better understand the evolution of metastasis and the mechanisms of drug resistance that allow tumors to grow and spread. The program involves 60 hospitals across 11 countries throughout Europe and has already yielded new insights into metastatic disease.

AURORA US shares AURORA EU’s goals. In addition to enrolling new patients with metastatic disease, the U.S. study will more rapidly advance metastasis research by studying tumors from previously treated patients with known outcomes. The U.S. study harnesses the model clinical trials program, TBCRC, which involves 18 clinical sites and more than 100 investigators, and published its first findings in 2022. Ongoing analysis of patient samples will help determine the features that cause metastasis and/or resistance to treatment.

Read more about the Founder’s Fund here.

Ancillary studies

While the AURORA studies are the flagship of the Evelyn H. Lauder Founder’s Fund additional projects augment the efforts of the AURORA groups to help accelerate discoveries. Ancillary projects have studied breast cancers that have metastasized to the brain; built cutting-edge lab models of metastatic tumor growth and treatment response; and leveraged the power of the internet to build a massive online registry of patient-reported metastatic tumor and clinical data.

Metastatic Breast Cancer Alliance

BCRF is a founding member of the Metastatic Breast Cancer Alliance, a coalition of 50 nonprofits, patients, pharmaceutical companies, and biotech that work together to improve the lives and outcomes for those living with stage 4 breast cancer through education, awareness and the advancement of research. BCRF serves as the administrative home of the MBC Alliance, and BCRF staff are engaged in Alliance initiatives to advance its mission.

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