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HIV-Blocking Drugs Enhance Therapy for Breast Cancer

Research by the Baruch S. Blumberg Institute’s Pennsylvania Cancer and Regenerative Medicine Research Center suggests that the use of HIV drugs can allow for lower doses of chemotherapy in treating breast cancer, reducing side effects.

DOYLESTOWN, Pa. (January 23, 2018) – For decades, researchers have tried to target cancer therapies to only the cancerous cells, to avoid the toxic bystander effects of standard chemo and radiation therapy to normal cells. New research by scientists at the Pennsylvania Cancer and Regenerative Medicine Research Center, a division of the Baruch S. Blumberg Institute, shows that medicines currently used in HIV treatment may help to target chemotherapy for breast cancer.

A new paper published online in the journal Cancer Research, “CCR5 governs DNA damage and breast cancer stem cell expansion,” describes the research, which shows that the co-receptor for HIV is found on a small population of cells within human breast cancers. The presence of HIV co-receptors was found to be key for the growth of the breast cancer tumors.

When researchers added HIV-receptor targeted therapy to either chemotherapy or radiation, the effect of chemotherapy was dramatically enhanced just in the breast cancer cells.

“Unlike standard chemotherapy, HIV-receptor blocking drugs have been proven to be safe and with rare side effects,” said Richard G. Pestell, MD, PhD, MBA, President of the Pennsylvania Cancer and Regenerative Medicine Research Center (PCARMRC). “These studies suggest the potential for dramatically reducing the dose of chemotherapy or radiation and thereby reducing the side effects of standard chemotherapy by enhancing the targeting of cancer therapies using HIV receptor blocking drugs.”

“This research shows great promise to reduce adverse effects for people undergoing breast cancer treatment,” said Timothy M. Block, PhD, president of the Baruch S. Blumberg Institute, which manages PCARMRC. “We are excited about the possibilities for improving outcomes for those in treatment, and potential applications for other cancers.”

Grant/Funding acknowledgement: This work was supported in part by grants from NIH R01CA70896, R01CA75503, R01CA86072v(R.G.P.), the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (R.G.P.), the Dr. Ralph and Marian C. Falk Medical Research Trust (R.G.P.), and grants from the Pennsylvania Department of Health (R.G.P.). The Department specifically disclaims responsibility for analyses, interpretations or conclusions. Part of the work also supported by grants R01CA197903 and R01CA1645093 (H.R) from the National Institutes of Health, and CHE1213161 from the National Science Foundation, USA, and an internal grant from the University of Southern California (J.F.Z.). RGP is founder of ProstaGene, LLC and owns issued patents.

About the Pennsylvania Cancer and Regenerative Medicine Research Center: The Pennsylvania Cancer and Regenerative Medicine Research Center (PCARMRC), a division of the Baruch S. Blumberg Institute, is part of an international hub-and-spoke model for regenerative medical inquiry, spearheading research and collaborating with similar centers around the world. The interface between cancer, stem cells, and regeneration is at an historic moment. Recent breakthroughs in cancer immune therapy have resulted in new biotechnology companies and value for patient’s lives. New discoveries in regenerative medicine are at a similar discovery tipping point.

About the Baruch S. Blumberg Institute: The Baruch S. Blumberg Institute is an independent, nonprofit research institute established in 2003 by the Hepatitis B Foundation to conduct discovery research and nurture translational biotechnology in an environment conducive to interaction, collaboration and focus. It was renamed in 2013 to honor Baruch S. Blumberg, who won the Nobel Prize for his discovery of the hepatitis B virus and co-founded the Hepatitis B Foundation. To learn more, visit