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Developing new drugs that target specific subtypes of breast cancer


Dr. Alison Thompson

Breast cancer isn’t just one type of cancer. There are four main subtypes of breast cancer, with different characteristics, and therefore which require different treatments.

Triple-negative breast cancer – so named because it lacks estrogen, progesterone, and HER2 receptors – accounts for only 10 to 20 per cent of all invasive breast cancers, yet is responsible for a large proportion of breast cancer deaths because it is so aggressive, and is more likely to have already spread to other parts of the body at diagnosis.

This type of breast cancer is currently only treated with chemotherapy and radiation, as it does not respond to targeted drugs like Tamoxifen and Herceptin – which target the estrogen, progesterone, and HER2 receptors. In 2013, the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation-Atlantic Region funded a project to explore new drugs that target triple-negative breast cancer, while reducing toxicity and related side effects.

Dr. Alison Thompson, a professor in the Department of Chemistry at Dalhousie University, and her team, are developing new drugs aimed at triple-negative breast cancer based on a naturally occurring molecule called prodigiosin, found in bacteria.

Our new work with prodigiosenes will enable us to attach a structural piece that should target breast cancer cells, specifically those with triple-negative characteristics. We will use medicinal chemistry for this project,” says Dr. Thompson.

Currently, patients with triple-negative breast cancer have limited treatment options and poor prognosis. The goal of this project is to develop drugs that will work effectively for this type of breast cancer.

About the Grant

CBCF – Atlantic Region Research Grants Program is committed to funding the highest quality projects that demonstrate relevance and impact on breast cancer.  This funding program provides operating support for laboratory and pre-clinical investigations; psychosocial, cancer control, survivorship and other research that demonstrates direct impact and relevance to breast cancer and includes strategies for knowledge translation and dissemination. A call for applications is issued annually.  For information, please click here.

Area of Focus: Treatment

Information about Researchers:

  • Dr. Alison Thompson is a Professor in the Department of Chemistry at Dalhousie University

  • Dr. Graham Dellaire is an Associate Professor at Dalhousie University’s Department of Pathology and Biochemistry & Molecular Biology.