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How BCRF is Making an International Impact

By BCRF | February 2, 2024

Supporting the best breast cancer research around the world

Breast cancer affects millions of people around the globe. In 2024, the World Health Organization reported that breast cancer is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer but the most common cancer in women worldwide. And the American Cancer Society recently reported that breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in women. The most recent figures available estimate that more than 2.3 million women were diagnosed with the disease and over 670,000 women died from their disease. Both breast cancer incidence and mortality have been on the rise over the last 15 years.

These facts underscore the need for a massive global effort to end breast cancer and ensure that patients everywhere benefit from new advances. As the largest private funder of breast cancer research—and metastatic breast cancer research—and a convener by design, BCRF is at the forefront of this effort. By supporting researchers, collaborative initiatives, and major studies around the world, we are working to end breast cancer’s devastating toll, support groundbreaking science, and end disparities.

Here, BCRF dives into our multi-pronged approach.

Where BCRF investigators are working abroad

In 2023-2024, BCRF is supporting 35 researchers based or working in 15 countries and on five continents. These investigators are running labs in their home countries, conducting large clinical trials in one or many countries abroad, collaborating with fellow BCRF researchers across borders, and more.

Currently, BCRF is funding the following investigators working in these countries:

Australia: Drs. Prudence FrancisGeoffrey LindemanSherene LoiAlexander Swarbrick

Belgium: Drs. Martine PiccartChristos Sotiriou

Canada: Drs. Samuel AparicioPamela Goodwin   

France: Drs. Fabrice André,  Maria Alice Franzoi

India: Dr. Mehra Golshan [based in U.S.; BCRF grant supports work in India]

Ireland: Dr. Roisin Connolly

Israel: Drs. Roy Kessous[JB3] [PM4] , Ephrat Levy-LahadGad Rennert

Italy: Drs. Laura BiganzoliAndrea De CensiLuca Gianni

Nigeria: Dr. Olufunmilayo (Funmi) Olopade [based in U.S.; BCRF grant supports work in Nigeria]

Palestine: Dr. Moien Kanaan  

Rwanda: Dr. Lawrence Shulman [based in U.S.; BCRF grant supports work in Rwanda with co-investigator Dr. Cyprien Shyirambere]

Spain: Drs. Joaquin ArribasJudith BalmañaAleix PratMafalda Oliveira

Switzerland: Drs. Meredith ReganJohanna Joyce  

Tanzania: Dr. Sarah Nyagabona

United Kingdom: Professor Dame Lesley Fallowfield; Drs. Jack CuzickAdrian HarrisSerena Nik-ZainalCharles SwantonAndrew Tutt

Bolstering clinical trials abroad

Clinical trials are critical for validating findings from foundational research in patients, answering and testing questions about breast cancer, and transforming care. They are the way that researchers translate ideas from the lab to patients in the clinic. Trials that include diverse populations of people—including people in other countries—only stand to enhance our understanding of breast cancer, spark new areas of investigation, and perfect treatment.

BCRF investigators conducting clinical trials outside of the U.S.—including many of the researchers named above—must navigate sometimes vastly different healthcare delivery systems, institutional review boards, regulatory requirements, and more from country to country (even in states that belong to the European Union, for example). Just as BCRF’s U.S.-based investigators navigate these complex processes and approvals at home, international researchers do the same. 

BCRF’s international focus includes investments in large global clinical trials as well as support for developing the infrastructure necessary to run trials and conduct research in low-resource countries such as Nigeria and Rwanda.

For example, with BCRF grant funding, Dr. Funmi Olopade was able to set up the necessary infrastructure and staff support in Nigeria to conduct trials and open the country’s first cancer risk clinic. Drs. Lawrence Shulman and Cyprien Shyirambere have trained hundreds of community health workers in Rwanda who educate patients, perform breast exams, and refer patients for care—all while rigorously studying their model and publishing results for other researchers to learn from and adopt.

Such work in low-resource settings also has the potential to be harnessed in low-resource areas of the U.S. and other countries, as Dr. Shulman’s team has done in Philadelphia. This is work that has the potential to help close gaps in care and outcomes not only abroad but in high-resource countries as well.

BCRF’s support for international studies, consortia, and meetings

Together with our grants to researchers working in other countries, BCRF fosters global collaboration and backs several large, important breast cancer clinical trials and studies.

Breast International Group and AURORA EU

BCRF’s flagship program under the Evelyn H. Lauder Founder’s Fund for Metastatic Breast Cancer Research are the AURORA studies based in the U.S. through the Translational Breast Cancer Research Consortium (TBCRC) and the European Union through the Breast International Group (BIG). AURORA EU and US are conducting sophisticated analyses of matched breast cancer metastases and primary breast cancer tumors to uncover new avenues for treatment, understand how metastasis occurs and evolves, and find ways to interrupt the process by which metastases become resistant to therapy. Read more about the AURORA projects and their results so far here.

Co-founded by BCRF investigator Dr. Martine Piccart, BIG is the largest global network of academic research groups focused on improving breast cancer treatment. It comprises over 60 such groups across 70 countries and seven continents. In addition to supporting the AURORA EU project conducted by BIG, BCRF helps back two other large international trials: Suppression of Ovarian Function (SOFT) and Triptorelin with either EXemestane or Tamoxifen in treating premenopausal women with hormone-responsive breast cancer (TEXT). The goal of these two trials is to find the best adjuvant (post-surgery) endocrine treatment in premenopausal women with early-stage hormone-positive breast cancer.

International Center for the Study of Breast Cancer Subtypes

BCRF also recently began supporting the International Center for the Study of Breast Cancer Subtypes (ICSBCS) led by BCRF investigators Drs. Melissa Davis and Lisa Newman. ICSBCS, which is headquartered at New York-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medicine, is broadly focused on evaluating breast cancer burdens on women of African ancestry living in the United States compared to those in Africa and is active in several sites in Africa.

Mathematical Oncology Initiative

In 2016, BCRF launched its Mathematical Oncology Initiative to apply mathematical concepts to oncology to accelerate discoveries in how tumors develop and respond to therapies. Today, with generous support from the Simons Foundation, this initiative funds the work of BCRF investigators Dr. Joseph Deasy in New York, along with Dr. Roy Kessous in Israel. Read more here.

BCRF Global Data Hub

BCRF’s Global Data Hub was launched in 2023 and is the first-of-its kind network that will radically transform how breast cancer data is shared internationally—giving our global cohort of investigators and others a one-stop shop to expedite studies and spark new ideas. The BCRF Global Data Hub, notably, will include its AURORA EU and US datasets, the world’s largest repositories of matched primary and metastatic tumor data.

Other investments

In addition to major studies and initiatives, BCRF provides support for major international consortia of hospitals, universities, scientists, and research organizations, including the 48-country European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer. BCRF also helps fund the High-Risk Breast Cancer Bio-bank (HRBCBB) led by BCRF investigators Drs. Prudence Francis and Jack Cuzick. HRBCBB is a biorepository of breast cancer specimens from the IBIS prevention trials launched in 1992 to study hormone therapy’s effectiveness in patients at a high risk of breast cancer recurrence.

As part of its commitment to fostering international collaboration and knowledge sharing, BCRF also provides financial support for researchers around the globe to convene and strategize about ways to address key issues in breast cancer. This includes support for a collective (called BIG-NCTN) of two large international networks: Breast International Group and National Clinical Trials Network, which is supported by the National Cancer Institute and comprised of multiple research groups across the U.S. and Canada. Other BCRF-funded forums include the metastatic-focused ABC Global Alliance based in Portugal, the Target Conference spearheaded by Dr. Gad Rennert in Israel, and the Breast Cancer Think Tank Symposium established by the late Dr. William McGuire and Dr. Marc Lippman, who continues this work with Dr. C. Kent Osborne. The latter provides an opportunity for researchers in academia, clinics, and industry to craft new strategies to improve breast cancer diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.

Why BCRF supports global research

Ultimately, more diverse science is better science. By awarding grants to investigators outside of the U.S. who are working in different settings and with different populations, we will move the needle on breast cancer disparities and improve treatment for everyone diagnosed with the disease.

“Over the last three decades we have seen the incredible power of improving diagnosis and treatment, but we’ve also witnessed the devastating price when these advances are not available to all,” said BCRF Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Dorraya El-Ashry. “Both globally and right here in the U.S., we are grappling with the consequences of inequitable access to progress: the unacceptable loss of life. We are determined to unravel the underpinnings of disparities to improve outcomes for all. BCRF’s international approach breaks down silos, accelerates new ideas, and fosters a culture of shared knowledge that will help eradicate breast cancer worldwide.”