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World Cancer Day 2023: BCRF’s International Impact

By BCRF | February 1, 2023

How BCRF is supporting the best breast cancer research around the world

Breast cancer effects millions of people around the globe. In 2020, breast cancer became the most common cancer worldwide—surpassing lung cancer for the first time. According to the most recent figures available, in 2020, more than 2.26 million people were diagnosed with the disease and about 685,000 people died. Both breast cancer incidence and mortality have been on the rise over the last 15 years.

All these facts underscore the need for a massive global effort to end breast cancer. 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.

In honor of World Cancer Day, BCRF dives into our multi-pronged approach.

Where BCRF investigators are working abroad

In 2022-2023, BCRF is supporting 34 researchers based in, or working in, 14 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:
Bolstering clinical trials abroad

Clinical trials are critical for answering and testing questions about breast cancer and transforming care. They are the way that researchers translate ideas in 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, and 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 to develop an infrastructure 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 adopt and learn from.

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.

BIG, which was co-founded and is currently led by BCRF investigator Dr. Martine Piccart, is the largest global network of academic research groups focused on improving breast cancer treatment and comprises 55 such groups across 50 countries and six 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 Drs. Joseph Deasy and Allen Tannenbaum in New York, along with Dr. Nir Peled in Israel. Read more here.

BCRF Global Data Hub

BCRF’s forthcoming Global Data Hub, announced last year, will be a first-of-its kind network that will radically transform how 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 repository 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 Biobank (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 comprising 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.

“BCRF’s international approach breaks down silos, accelerates new ideas, and fosters a culture of shared knowledge that will help eradicate breast cancer worldwide,” said BCRF Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Dorraya El-Ashry.

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