New Breast Cancer Projects Announced $720,489 in Funding Released to Support Innovative Research - Latest news • Breast Cancer Foundation NZ

New Breast Cancer Projects Announced $720,489 in Funding Released to Support Innovative Research

Dr Robert Weinkove, Malaghan Institute of Medical Research

The Health Research Council of New Zealand, Breast Cancer Cure and Breast Cancer Foundation NZ are pleased to announce that funding has been offered to four recipients through the Breast Cancer Research in New Zealand initiative. This fifth call for proposals was about identifying potential targeted and immune therapies for breast cancer, with a focus on targeted treatments, aspects of early detection, prognostic and predictive diagnoses, or preventative therapies.

This partnership initiated in 2014 has funded $3.2M of projects over five years, through a total of 17 projects across many researchers and institutions directly and through collaboration. These projects have the potential to improve treatment of the disease, quality of life and survivorship while raising local research capability and knowledge and potential economic returns.

Breast Cancer Research in New Zealand 2018 partnership recipients are:

Dr Robert Weinkove, Malaghan Institute of Medical Research

Preventing breast cancer metastasis with conjugate vaccines targeting human HER2

24 months, $248,900

The aim of this novel and ambitious project is to develop potent new vaccines with potential to prevent recurrence of HER2 positive breast cancer. This is made possible through the team’s prior experience and the availability of partially tested vaccines, cell lines and animal strains and through collaboration. It is expected that the differing chemical structures of the vaccines will elicit and prime, immune responses in different tissue compartments, (lung, stomach and liver). Metastasis is a devastating complication of breast cancer, and tumours over-expressing human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) carry higher risk.

“Dr Weinkove’s project is the next step in the vaccine development programme we are funding at Ferrier Institute,” said Evangelia Henderson, Chief Executive at Breast Cancer Foundation NZ. “It’s particularly satisfying for us to support this collaboration between Malaghan and Ferrier. This is the kind of partnership that could take breast cancer vaccines a huge step forward.”


Dr Dean Singleton, University of Auckland

Targeting HIF-1 in Triple Negative Breast Cancer using glutaminase inhibitors

24 months, $237,494

It is now understood that Triple Negative breast cancer has many biologic nuances and a heterogeneity not previously understood. The aim of this project is to further characterise the role of HIF-1 in Triple Negative breast cancer and its response to inhibition and to assess its potential as a predictive biomarker of treatment response. Low-oxygen (hypoxia) is a common feature of breast tumours that promotes aggressive disease outcomes and poor patient survival. Hypoxia is “sensed” in cells by a protein HIF-1 and its accumulation in oxygen-deprived cancer cells promotes the growth of new tumour blood vessels and causes cancer cells to become invasive and resistant to anticancer therapy.


Prof John Miller, Victoria University of Wellington

Targeting breast cancer metastasis with heparan sulfate mimetics

18 months, $100,000

This research team combines leading expertise in synthetic and medicinal chemistry and cancer biology. They will evaluate the expression of heparanase, an enzyme that degrades the extracellular matrix that surrounds cells. It facilitates the escape of tumour cells and their entry into circulation, leading to the formation of secondary tumours (metastasis). They will test this highly druggable target with a compound with low toxicity to retard the spread of cancer cells for breast cancer therapy in triple-negative, metastatic human breast cancer cell lines in culture and animal models. Preliminary trials in mice have shown its effectiveness.

Dr Heather Cunliffe, University of Otago

Investigating Fn14 as a driver of breast cancer metastasis

24 months, $133,263

The presence of a protein called Fn14 on the surface of 75% of invasive breast cancers, has been shown to be strongly prognostic for distant metastasis, with the strongest association in HER2/neu positive and Triple Negative breast cancers. Fn14 is not present in normal breast tissues, but once expressed, is sufficient to trigger cell invasion, and behaviour consistent with metastatic progression. This project aims to define the utility of F14 an independent prognostic indicator for aggressive disease, with therapeutic vulnerability in a breast cancer cohort and in time to validate it as a driver of metastasis in preclinical models. Invasion and metastasis are the major reasons for breast cancer-associated mortality.

Professor Kath McPherson, CEO of HRC says, “We welcome the opportunity to partner with Breast Cancer Cure and the Breast Cancer Foundation in funding these projects. This means we are jointly funding more research than any of us could do alone, and over time, our partnership has developed a strong cohort of excellent breast cancer researchers in New Zealand. The studies funded this year are broaching new ground to find better ways of identifying and treating a disease that affects many New Zealanders and their families.”

Phillipa Green, General Manager of Breast Cancer Cure comments, “We’re delighted to announce the recipients of further funding for these innovative research projects, to help us achieve our goal to improve and ultimately ensure survival of breast cancer. We firmly believe that great minds will save lives!”