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A new compound shows promise in fighting triple-negative breast cancer

Triple-negative breast cancer is aggressive, and if not caught early, has a five-year survival rate of only 12%. A new treatment looks to change that.

SAN ANTONIO, Texas — October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Triple-negative breast cancer is aggressive and, if not caught early, has a five-year survival rate of only 12 percent. Until now, doctors didn’t have much to fight the disease. But a new compound called ERX-41 is showing promise in knocking down triple-negative and other breast cancers.

“I was first diagnosed with cancer in July of 2018. The doctors examined both my breasts and felt a lump on my left," Lynnette Dawson said.

Lynnette’s cancer has responded to chemo and radiation, and she's also had a double mastectomy. She has a form of cancer called HER2 that is hormonally driven. But triple-negative breast cancer has no hormone receptors and is very hard to treat.

“I think if it’s a grade two or grade three, 50% of them will not survive within five years," said Ratna Vadlamudi, Ph.D., a professor OB/GYN at UT San Antonio.

Vadlamudi and his team tested 30,000 genes to find one that could stop triple-negative breast cancer.

“What we found is ERX-41 binds to a new therapeutic target that is LipA,” Dr. adlamudi explained.

Once ERX-441 binds to the LipA gene, the cancer senses defective cells and dies off.

“They accumulate in the lumen, and the lumen sends a signal that something is wrong — 'stop everything,'" Dr. Vadlamudi added.

Researchers have found a breakthrough in mice. Normal breast cells are not affected by ERX-41, and there is no toxicity to the patient. It‘s also been effective against Lynnette’s cancer subtype.

“HER2 positive is not the easiest. It likes to migrate to other parts of your body,” Lynnette said.

But if researchers have their way, there may be another potential option for women battling tough-to-treat breast cancers.

Professor Vadlamudi says ERX-41 has been effective in knocking down cancer in mice in 60 days. He also says the compound is likely to be effective against other lethal cancers like pancreatic, ovarian, and glioblastoma. Researchers expect human clinical trials to begin next year.

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