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IRB Barcelona identifies the gene responsible for metastasis of breast cancer to the bone

Physicians currently have no tools to help them detect which patients will suffer metastasis to the bone, a process that occurs in 15-20% of cases. A study led by ICREA researcher Roger Gomis at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona) and published today in JNCI has uncovered a gene that allows cells to invade bones and create new tumours, or to metastasize. This discovery has been patented and transferred to Inbiomotion, a spin off from the IRB Barcelona and ICREA, founded at the end of 2010. Inbiomotion, led by the venture investor Ysios Capital, has developed the technology necessary to validate the marker in clinical trials, which are already underway.

is the only type of metastasis that can be controlled, but not cured, by drugs. Treatment is only given once the metastasis has been identified, which is normally too late. Preliminary studies indicate that the same drugs used to treat metastasis could also be used to prevent it, and identifying those patients at risk of developing is therefore very important. “This is where the discovery made at IRB Barcelona could be of great use to clinicians and would avoid unnecessary treatment of patients who are not at risk,” suggests Gomis.

About one million new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed each year. Preventive treatment for bone metastasis can have unwanted side effects and comes at a high cost, making a broad administration of the drugs an unviable option, even less so considering only 15-20% of patients are likely to develop metastasis over time. “In order to implement a well-designed clinical trial, we first need to know which patients may benefit and which ones will not. Our discovery offers a way to distinguish that wasn’t possible before,” confirms Gomis.

Image of breast cancer tumour cells
Top, breast cancer tumour cells negative for the bone metastasis marker. Bottom, breast cancer tumour cells positive for the marker
Image: Gomis Lab, IRB Barcelona