A radiologist uses a magnifying glass to check mammograms for breast cancer in Los Angeles, May 6, 2010. (Damian Dovarganes/AP)

University of Saskatchewan researchers are developing potent new drugs to attack protein molecules that cause two aggressive types of cancer, the U of S said in a news release.

The first research target is triple negative breast cancer (TNBC), a highly aggressive form that mostly affects women under age 50 and makes up 15 to 20 per cent of all breast cancers.

No effective drug treatment exists for it. Patients are given chemotherapy or radiation treatment, but usually move on to palliative care if the treatments fail, radiopharmacist Humphrey Fonge said in the release.

The second type of targeted cancer makes up about one-quarter to one-third of all breast cancers. 

Although some precision therapeutics are approved for treating these cancers, about 70 per cent either don’t respond to the treatment or develop a resistance to the drugs, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars. 

Fonge and Ron Geyer, a professor in pathology and laboratory medicine, are working on precision therapeutics and radioactive imaging molecules for use in conjunction with a positron emission tomography camera to locate the sites and activity of these cancers.

“We anticipate that these strategies will be more effective than current treatment approaches in more than 50 per cent of all breast cancers,” Fonge said in the release, noting that preliminary data show promising outcomes. 

Although the study is approved for five years, Fonge is optimistic he will have enough “powerful data” after three years to proceed to an initial clinical trial of the treatments. 

“The ideal scenario is that once the study is done, we will have four tools in our pocket that target two different breast cancers. For both types, we are going to have a diagnostic solution and a therapeutic solution,” he said. 

More than 5,100 women in Canada will die from breast cancers this year, according to the release.