Breast Cancer

One in eight women will be diagnosed
with breast cancer in her lifetime
and 1 in 30 will die from it.
Jean-François Côté’s team seeks
to improve this prognosis.

Nowadays, we no longer talking about breast cancer, but rather, breast cancers. When a woman, or more rarely a man, receives a breast cancer diagnosis, the first question she asks is “are there metastases?” Their spread is responsible for more than 90% of breast cancer deaths.


Clinically, there are five major cancer families. Some are associated with estrogen and progesterone hormones for which science has developed targeted therapies with phenomenal success rates. For others, chemotherapy continues to be the only recourse. These cancers are particularly aggressive, and even though they respond to treatment, recurrence is common and they have an increased tendency to metastasize, making them veritable time bombs. 


Triple-negative breast cancer is one such form and affects about 15% of women, mostly under the age of 40. The other cancer that is more difficult to treat is HER2-positive (HER2+), which affects 15-25% of women diagnosed with breast cancer. Both types of cancer develop and spread rapidly. These secondary tumours in organs such as the brain, liver, bones and lungs pose the biggest threat to the survival of patients. Decreasing or even slowing down metastatic progression is currently the greatest challenge for oncologists and a promise of a better future for those affected.

Halting the spread of metastasis
is the key

for thousands of women with breast cancer. We hope that the results of our pre-clinical trials will lead to clinical trials that will have a significant impact on their survival and quality of life. I started my PhD while my mother was battling breast cancer. Now it’s my sister who has been hit hard for the past 10 years. I do it for the advancement of science, but I also do it for them.

Jean-François Côté, PhD  
IRCM Interim President and Scientific Director
and Research Unit Director

Promising final
pre-clinical trials

The laboratory of Jean-François Côté has discovered that if a certain protein called AXL is inactive (or inhibited), metastases can be completely blocked without any other form of intervention. Pre-clinical trials on animal models since the discovery have validated AXL as a promising therapeutic target for reducing the metastatic progression of HER2+ cancer.


Additionally, his most recent study of cell models (currently in final revision for the prestigious journal PNAS) demonstrates that simultaneous inhibition of AXL and a molecule targeted for immunotherapy contribute to shrinking the primary tumour. This impactful discovery will generate a lot of interest as it is known that HER2+-type cancers do not respond well to immunotherapy.


The Côté laboratory now aims to conduct final pre-clinical trials to test this promising therapeutic target in combination with the therapy currently used in the treatment of HER2+ cancer patients, as well as with immunotherapy. The goal is to start clinical trials to provide patients with these new co-therapies as soon as possible, thus saving lives.



Working together,
to improve treatment
and save lives

The IRCM is the birthplace of basic cancer research in Montreal and continues to house several renowned researchers. Jean-François Côté, holder of the Transat Chair in Breast Cancer Research who has been supported in continuity by the largest funding agencies, has discovered a superfamily of proteins that regulates cell migration. He has contributed to more than 68 publications in prestigious scientific journals.


His knowledge of the key characteristics contributing to metastasis is internationally recognized, and his laboratory is among the few in Quebec to focus on metastatic mechanisms, a major problem that few laboratories undertake because of their complexity. Jean-François Côté has acquired exhaustive knowledge over time, beginning with understanding the tumour in its original site to the migration of cancer cells into the bloodstream, to their signaling and then their invasion into other organs.


Pre-clinical trials in the Côté laboratory have validated the importance of the AXL protein as the therapeutic target of choice. The objective is to finalize pre-clinical trials with the goal of testing this approach with a cohort of patients by 2023. The Côté laboratory is collaborating with the wealth of expertise in Quebec to develop clinical trials.


As part of its capital Driven by Life campaign, the IRCM Foundation is proud to support a clinical research project that has the potential to transform the care of patients with the most aggressive forms of cancer in a sustainable way, with the goal of saving thousands of lives.


Like us,
be driven
by life!

Support this ground-breaking research for more than a third of women with breast cancer.

Participate in the final steps of validating a new, more effective treatment to prevent the progression of metastases in breast cancer.

Help Dr. Côté and his team develop his proposed critical clinical trials to give hope to women with breast cancer.

Take a stand

The IRCM clinic
changed my life

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Project Manager: Jean-François Côté, Ph. D.

Amount needed to complete the project:: $500 000

Number of years planned for the project: 2 years

What will be the money required: Training highly qualified postdoctoral staff, completing pre-clinical trials and launching clinical trials

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