Scientists have uncovered a novel approach to fighting hard-to-treat breast cancers, triggering a new drug programme designed to develop novel targeted therapies for the disease.

The researchers, funded by UK charity Breast Cancer Now, found that blocking the action of the KIFC1 gene damaged triple negative breast cancers while leaving healthy cells unharmed.

The gene was one of the most promising of 37 new genes that the researchers found triple-negative breast cancers were addicted to, which, when silenced, suppressed tumour cells’ growth but had no effect on normal cells, thus offering new drug targets.

Around 15 percent of all breast cancers are ‘triple negative’, with around 7,500 women in the UK being diagnosed each year.

Currently there are no targeted treatments available for this type of breast cancer, which can be highly aggressive and is more likely to spread to another part of the body where it becomes incurable.

“Our study has exposed a whole series of new genetic weaknesses in triple negative breast cancer – a particularly aggressive form of the disease. We believe these new ‘addiction genes’ can be exploited to find potentially exciting targeted forms of treatment,” said study leader Professor Andrew Tutt, director of the Breast Cancer Now Toby Robins Research Centre at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, and director of the Breast Cancer Now Research Unit at King’s College London.

“We studied one of the genes, KIFC1, in more detail, and showed that it could be a particularly promising new target for cancer drugs. We’re now starting an exciting new drug discovery programme to test the possible benefits of blocking KIFC1 in triple negative breast cancer – with the aim of taking a new class of drug into clinical trials.”

“These incredibly exciting findings could give us 37 new avenues of hope for thousands of women,” added the charity’s chief executive, Baroness Delyth Morgan.

“If we could develop drugs to block these ‘addiction genes’ to kill triple negative cancer cells, while leaving healthy cells unscathed, this could be the chink in the armour we’ve long been searching for.”