Study Tests New Breast Cancer Drug in African American Women

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WASHINGTON (July 6, 2016) —  The first clinical trial to test a newly approved breast cancer drug specifically in African American patients is now enrolling at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center and will begin soon at five other institutions in Washington, DC, Maryland, Alabama and New Jersey.

The phase II study will evaluate the safety of palbociclib (Ibrance ®) in African American patients, including those who may have a low white blood cell count due to “benign ethnic neutropenia.” This condition is common in African-Americans, but it is unclear whether it increases a patient’s risk of infection while taking palbociclib, says the study’s leader, Filipa Lynce, MD, a physician researcher at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center (new window).

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved palbociclib in February 2016 for ER+ HER2- breast cancer that has spread.

Because about three-fourths of the 1,137 patients tested in earlier clinical trials of palbociclib developed neutropenia (low white blood cell count) — including half of the patients who developed a more serious form of the disorder — the FDA guidelines for palbociclib use require the patient to have a normal white blood cell count. 

That threshold forces the elimination of African-American women who have “benign ethnic neutropenia,” or a lower than normal white blood cell count, from receiving the drug.

The study Lynce is conducting explores the safety of the drug in all African American women, knowing that some may have benign ethnic neutropenia. “The assumption that African American women with this common condition could not safely use this drug needs to be fully tested,” says Lynce. 

The study will enroll 35 patients with metastatic breast cancer at Georgetown Lombardi/MedStar Georgetown University Hospital (new window)(Washington, DC), MedStar Washington Hospital Center (Washington, DC), MedStar Union Memorial Hospital (new window) (Baltimore, MD) and MedStar Good Samaritan Hospital (new window)(Baltimore, MD), the University of Alabama at Birmingham Comprehensive Cancer Center (new window), and at the John Theurer Cancer Center at Hackensack University Medical Center (new window)(Hackensack, New Jersey).

All patients will be given palbociclib and letrozole (Femara®). Both agents are pills that are taken once daily. Participants will be enrolled in the study for a maximum of 13 months.

The usual standard of care services required to monitor and treat the cancer — including examinations, scans and laboratory tests — will be performed as part of the study and billed to a patient’s insurance. The primary study drug, palbociclib, will be provided free of charge on the study, but the second drug, letrozole, will also be billed to insurance.

Lynce applied and received a $600,000 grant from Pfizer, Inc., the developer of palbociclib, to test the agent in African Americans.

I think this award shows how committed the company is to look at the safety of their drugs in minorities,” says Lynce. “One focus area of my research is to look at the safety and efficacy of medications used to treat breast cancer in populations that have not been included in clinical trials.

For more information about this or other cancer clinical trials at Georgetown Lombardi, please call 202-444-2223, and press 3.

About Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center
Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, part of Georgetown University Medical Center and MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, seeks to improve the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of cancer through innovative basic and clinical research, patient care, community education and outreach, and the training of cancer specialists of the future.  Georgetown Lombardi is one of only 46 comprehensive cancer centers in the nation, as designated by the National Cancer Institute (grant #P30 CA051008), and the only one in the Washington, DC area.  For more information, go to

About Georgetown University Medical Center
Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC) is an internationally recognized academic medical center with a three-part mission of research, teaching and patient care (through MedStar Health). GUMC’s mission is carried out with a strong emphasis on public service and a dedication to the Catholic, Jesuit principle of cura personalis — or “care of the whole person.” The Medical Center includes the School of Medicine and the School of Nursing & Health Studies, both nationally ranked; Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, designated as a comprehensive cancer center by the National Cancer Institute; and the Biomedical Graduate Research Organization, which accounts for the majority of externally funded research at GUMC including a Clinical and Translational Science Award (UL1TR001409-01) from the National Institutes of Health.