Aspirin trialled as potential treatment for aggressive breast cancer 

A new study is trialling whether giving aspirin alongside immunotherapy drug avelumab could improve its effectiveness for people affected by breast cancer.  

The clinical trial is being funded by the Breast Cancer Now Catalyst Programme, which aims to accelerate progress in breast cancer research through innovation and collaboration. As part of the Programme, Pfizer has provided Breast Cancer Now with funding through an independent medical research grant and given the charity’s researchers access to several Pfizer medicines. 

Triple negative breast cancer refers to a diverse group of breast cancers that lack the three molecules used to classify the disease: the oestrogen receptor (ER), progesterone receptor (PR), and human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2). While these molecules have successfully been used to develop a variety of targeted treatments for other types of breast cancer, their absence in triple negative breast cancer means that treatment options for this type are usually limited to a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy. 

Previous research has shown that pairing an immunotherapy drug, like avelumab, with aspirin helps to control tumour growth in mice more successfully than immunotherapy drugs alone, so may help more people benefit from this treatment. 

Adding to the new trial, a recent analysis of existing published studies by Cardiff University found that taking aspirin is linked to reduction in cancer deaths. The review and analysis of 118 published observational studies in patients with 18 different cancers showed that about 20% more of the patients who took aspirin for other health reasons were likely to be alive compared with those patients not taking aspirin.1 

Avelumab will be trialled, with and without aspirin, before patients receive surgery and chemotherapy treatment. Samples of patients’ breast cancer tumours will then be evaluated to see if the addition of aspirin can enhance the effects of immunotherapy. If successful, this trial could lead to further clinical trials of aspirin and avelumab for incurable secondary triple negative breast cancer, which occurs when cancer cells that started in the breast spread to other parts of the body. 

Dr Anne Armstrong, Consultant Medical Oncologist and Honorary Senior Lecturer at The Christie NHS Foundation Trust in Manchester, said: “Anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin could hold the key to increasing the effectiveness of immunotherapy when used at the same time. Trialling the use of a drug like aspirin is exciting because it is so widely available and inexpensive to produce.” 

Dr Simon Vincent, Director of Research, Support and Influencing at Breast Cancer Now, said: “Research has already suggested aspirin could improve outcomes for many cancer patients and we hope that Dr Armstrong’s trial will show the same to be true for patients with triple negative breast cancer, so that we can prevent more lives being lost to this devastating disease.” 

References

  1. Aspirin and cancer survival: a systematic review and meta-analyses of 118 observational studies of aspirin and 18 cancers (2021), ecancermedicalscience 

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