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Study identifies why some breast cancers become resistant to hormone therapy

Scientists analysed genetic mutations in the circulating tumour DNA of patients with advanced ER-positive breast cancer

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A team of British researchers have discovered why some advanced oestrogen receptor (ER) positive breast cancers become resistant to hormone therapy.

Researchers at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, found that for four per cent of patients with breast cancer, mutations in the oestrogen receptor gene (ESR1), called F404, when combined with specific pre-existing mutations, caused resistance to fulvestrant hormone therapy.

They found that cells with these mutations remained sensitive to a range of compounds which are currently being tested in clinical trials.

The scientists hope that in the future, if these new drugs are approved, patients likely to develop treatment resistance through F404 mutations could be identified with a blood test and offered new, alternative treatments.

Fulvestrant is a widely used type of hormone therapy that is usually given to people with ER-positive breast cancer, either as a first line of treatment or once other drugs have stopped working. However, patients’ cancers will very often develop resistance to the treatment over time.

‘This could revolutionise the way we treat breast cancer’

The research, which was published in the journal Cancer Discovery, involved studying blood samples donated by people taking part in the plasmaMATCH clinical trial.

In the trial, researchers used liquid biopsies to analyse small traces of cancer DNA in the blood which have been released from tumour cells.

The team analysed these blood samples, looking at genetic mutations in the circulating tumour DNA of patients with advanced ER-positive breast cancer and observing how they responded to fulvestrant.

ER-positive breast cancers use oestrogen in the body to help them to grow, and hormone therapies like fulvestrant target the oestrogen receptor to prevent this.

Researchers in this study wanted to understand how mutations in the gene that codes for the oestrogen receptor, ESR1, can contribute to fulvestrant resistance.

They found that in four per cent of patients, following fulvestrant treatment, their breast cancer developed specific mutations in the ESR1 gene, called F404.

These new mutations only occurred in patients who already had certain existing mutations in the ESR1 gene before treatment. The researchers noted that the combined effect of these pre-existing and new mutations was a “profound resistance” to fulvestrant.

The team then tested a series of hormone therapies currently in clinical development on cancer cells with the F404 mutations. They were encouraged to discover that fulvestrant-resistant cancer cells with F404 mutations were sensitive to all four therapies tested.

Professor Nicholas Turner, professor of molecular oncology at The Institute of Cancer Research and consultant medical oncologist at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Our study makes use of innovative blood tests which detect genetic changes present in a patient’s cancer, without the need for any invasive procedures.

“The discovery of these specific genetic changes in oestrogen receptor positive breast cancer helps to explain one mechanism by which some patients develop resistance to fulvestrant, and which upcoming treatments will be likely to work instead.

“This could revolutionise the way we treat breast cancer, by making use of these simple blood tests to match patients to alternative treatments, bringing them the best possible outcome.”

Dr Kotryna Temcinaite, head of research communication and engagement at Breast Cancer Now, said: “These findings help us understand how secondary breast cancer can become resistant to hormone therapies like fulvestrant and what other treatments we could use in the future if this resistance happens.

“With an estimated 61,000 people living with secondary breast cancer in the UK, research like this is vital”.

Dr Nisha Duggan, science engagement manager at Cancer Research UK, added: “Research discoveries like this help scientists find better ways to treat cancer.

“Understanding why a drug like fulvestrant stops being effective will help researchers and doctors identify the best medicines available for people living with certain types of breast cancer and develop new therapies.”

She added: “This would provide people living with specific types of cancer with more effective treatment options, ultimately helping them to live longer, better lives.”

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Sorina Mihaila is the Femtech World editor, covering technology, research and innovation in women's health. Sorina is also a contributor for the neuro-rehabilitation magazine NR Times.

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Menopause start-up raises US$3.3m to expand digital health platform

The funding will be used to expand Elektra’s care delivery platform across payers, self-insured employers and new markets

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Elektra Health Board of Directors | From left to right: Craig Bell (UPMC), Kathryn Heffernan (UPMC), Dr Nora Lansen (Elektra Chief Medical Officer, non-board member), Jannine Versi (Elektra co-founder), Dr Monica Jain (Wavemaker 360), Alessandra Henderson (Elektra co-founder), Katelin Cruise (Seven Seven Six), Vic Lanio (Flare Capital Partners)

The US menopause start-up Elektra Health has raised US$3.3m in new financing to expand its digital health platform.

Elektra Health, a telemedicine platform offering education and one-to-one support, aims to help women understand and manage their menopause symptoms.

Today, 50 million women are currently navigating menopause in the US. However, around 20 per cent of OB/GYN residency programmes offer menopause training, resulting in a care gap.

Research underscores the connection between menopause and the risk and prevalence of chronic conditions such as heart disease, hypertension and osteoporosis, among others.

Elektra’s Actuarial Study (2023) revealed that women diagnosed with menopause incur significantly increased healthcare spend (45 per cent), and often suffer poorer outcomes.

The company’s menopause care model aims to combine telemedicine care with one-to-one support from health experts to help women better navigate menopause.

“Elektra Health’s three core pillars – education, care, and community – lay the foundation for women to not only understand menopause, but to also take actionable steps to optimise their long-term health and wellness,” said Alessandra Henderson, co-founder and CEO of Elektra Health.

The funding round, led by UPMC Enterprises with participation from Wavemaker 360 and existing investors Flare Capital Partners and Seven Seven Six Fund, brings the total amount of equity finance raised to US$7.6m.

The capital will be used to expand Elektra’s care delivery platform across payers, self-insured employers and new markets.

Jannine Versi, co-founder and COO at Elektra Health, said: “We’re thrilled to have UPMC joining as lead investor for this round.

“They are exemplary in their dedication to holistic care for women across the lifespan, including menopause and the intersecting health needs of an aging population that has been wildly underserved to date.”

Kathryn Heffernan, senior director of strategic product management at UPMC Enterprises, added: “UPMC is interested in investing in solutions that focus on empowering women and Elektra proved to have all the elements UPMC values in this space: evidence-based education and care that prioritises women’s health needs and drives outcomes.

“The goal of the Elektra platform is to fill a gap and provide innovative opportunities to strengthen the doctor-patient relationship as women move through the menopause transition.”

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Tech4Eva launches its fourth edition and call for application

Tech4Eva is searching for entrepreneurs ready to address the unmet health needs of women worldwide

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Tech4Eva, a pioneering accelerator programme dedicated to the femtech sector, is opening its call for applications, inviting femtech start-ups to join its mission to improve women’s health.

The programme is searching for entrepreneurs ready to address the unmet health needs of women worldwide, promising to help entrepreneurs to take their start-ups to the next level.

What is Tech4Eva?

Tech4Eva, is a joint programme between EPFL Innovation Park and Groupe Mutuel for companies developing innovative technology solutions to improve women’s health globally.

What is Tech4Eva looking for? 
Why join?

Applying to the Tech4Eva accelerator programme is a pivotal step for any femtech start-up looking to elevate its impact and reach in the women’s health sector.

Here is an overview of the benefits the programme offers:

  • Strategic refinement: Sharpen your business model and go-to-market strategy with expert guidance, positioning your start-up for sustainable growth and success.
  • Enhanced visibility: Participate in roadshows to showcase your innovative solutions, broadening your exposure to key stakeholders in the Tech4Eva femtech ecosystem.
  • Direct connections: Gain invaluable access to a network of investors and potential customers.
  • Personalised coaching: Receive targeted technical and business coaching tailored to your start-up’s unique challenges.
  • Peer learning: Benefit from Peer2Peer sessions that foster exchange of insights and experiences with fellow founders.
  • Community engagement: Become an integral part of a global femtech community, connecting with like-minded innovators committed to transforming women’s health.
The time is now

This is more than a call for applications, it’s a call to action. The Tech4Eva accelerator programme offers more than growth – it offers a chance to be part of a movement set to redefine the future of women’s health.

If your start-up is ready to take the next step, your time is now. Apply here to join the Tech4Eva programme now.

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Investors launch female-focused angel network in the north of England

The Leeds-based group aims to build a diverse investment community for women entrepreneurs in the north of England

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Two UK-based businesswomen have launched an angel investment network to back women-led start-ups in the north of England.

Co-founded by Jordan Dargue and Helen Oldham, Lifted Ventures was launched based on research showing that female-led businesses generate on average double the revenue for each pound invested, despite receiving minimal funding.

Funding has been identified as a top barrier for women in tech and business, with the Alison Rose Review revealing that less than one per cent of all venture funding goes to all-female-founded start-ups.

Dargue and Oldham, who led the NorthInvest angel network and co-founded Fund Her North and Women Angels of the North, said they came together to this new venture to build on their work in closing the early-stage gender and ethnic funding gap in the UK.

The Leeds-based group aims to build a diverse investment community for women entrepreneurs in the north of England, planning to create networks for angels and supply its capital to women-led startups.

“Too often the conversation focuses on disparity, gender funding gaps, barriers and challenges. Lifted Ventures is focusing on opportunity,” said Oldham, co-founder of Lifted Ventures and board member of the UK Business Angels Association, told UKTN.

“One of our main aims is to educate and inform investors on the proven business benefits and greater economic returns which result from supporting female-founded businesses.”

Lifted’s angel networks, Oldham said, would include education programmes to support new and experienced investors who want to gain a better understanding of how to back female-led businesses.

“We understand that female-led businesses and women angels need tailored pathways to ensure that they’re successful,” explained Jordan, co-founder of Lifted Ventures.

“The education programmes we’re developing aim to provide investors and founders alike with the practical resources and knowledge they need to ensure success.”

She aded: “We believe that investment should be accessible to everyone, irrespective of their background, ethnicity, gender, neuro or physical diversity.”

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