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New immunotherapy approach targets HER2-positive breast cancer

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A new technique aimed at harnessing the body’s immune system to attack one of the deadliest forms of breast cancer is being developed by British scientists.

The team led by Dr John Maher at King’s College London is working on an immunotherapy treatment that specifically attacks HER2-positive tumours.

Breast cancer cells that over-produce the HER2 protein are especially aggressive and hard to treat. They account for one in five of the 50,000 cases of breast cancer diagnosed each year in the UK.

The new research is supported by a grant worth around £100,000 from the charity Breast Cancer Campaign.

The new type of immunotherapy has already been shown to be good at targeting cells that produce HER2.

But there could be severe side effects due to “collateral damage”, since some normal cells in the heart and lungs also generate small amounts of the protein.

Dr Maher now wants to improve the treatment by modifying it so that the immune system only attacks cells producing HER2 in large amounts.

Katherine Woods, research communications manager at Breast Cancer Campaign, said: “Dr Maher’s immunotherapy research could lead to a revolutionary type of treatment for HER2-positive breast cancer.

“This could significantly improve survival rates and bring us one step closer to our goal that by 2020, 25% fewer people will develop secondary breast cancer.”

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