The odyssey towards metastatic breast cancer survival: The AURORA academic research programme

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4 June marks National Cancer Survivors Day (in the US) – a moment to recognise all the milestones cancer survivors have reached and acknowledge the reality of life beyond a cancer diagnosis. This day serves as a reminder that while survivors demonstrate resilience and courage, they also grapple with the uncertainty and fear associated with their journey.

Metastatic breast cancer – the reality of an incurable disease…. and the relentless pursuit of prolonged survival through innovative academic research
Breast cancer is the most diagnosed cancer and the leading cause of cancer-related death in women across Europe. While early-stage disease is potentially curable, more than 5% of patients are diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, which is not curable. Additionally, 20–30% of the patients with early-stage disease will eventually progress to metastatic breast cancer¹.

And while some patients live longer than others with the disease, we still don’t understand why.

Despite advances in the understanding of the disease and new treatments, only about 25% of patients diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer live for five years or more, on average². By and large, breast cancer specialists try to treat it as a chronic disease, managing symptoms to prolong life. Regrettably, recent developments have yet to substantially improve the quality of life for these patients. And much remains to be learned about how metastatic breast cancer evolves over time. This highlights the critical importance of academic research programmes like AURORA in striving for breakthroughs and enhancing patient outcomes.

Navigating the path of metastatic breast cancer: the AURORA academic research programme
The Breast International Group (BIG) is the initiator of the European academic research programme AURORA, also referred to as the “Metastatic breast cancer GPS” study. Its aim is to improve our understanding of metastatic breast cancer by mapping the routes that cancer cells take as they invade different organs, while simultaneously identifying genetic breakdowns that occur throughout their journey. Our aspiration through this study is to better understand the evolution of metastatic breast cancer, with the hope to discover ways to block the disease in the future.

”Understanding why some breast cancers recur and spread while others are cured is of paramount importance to develop treatment strategies that will ultimately increase survival. AURORA aims to address this goal through advanced molecular analysis of paired primary and metastatic tumour samples as well as blood taken over time. We hope that this international study will be a major contribution in the fight against this disease,” says Dr Philippe Aftimos, Co-Principal Investigator of the AURORA programme and Clinical Trials Development Leader at the Jules Bordet Institute in Brussels, Belgium.

– Over 1,000 men and women with metastatic breast cancer already included
– From 2023: recruitment of 260 additional patients with difficult-to-treat breast cancer types
– Over 60 hospitals in 11 European countries involved overall
– First results published in Cancer Discovery³ in 2021
– Patients will be followed up for at least 5 years and up to 10 years
– Funding: see further below*

3-4 June 2023: AURORA presentations at ASCO

During the annual ASCO 2023 conference, organised by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, twopresentations will take place, highlighting analyses from the AURORA research programme:
– Saturday, June 3, 2023 | 8:15 PM – 9:45 PM GMT+2
“Characterization of the immune microenvironment in matched primary and metastatic breast cancer lesions from the AURORA study: BIG 14-01”
– Sunday, June 4, 2023 | 6:30 PM – 8:00 PM GMT+2
“Clinico-molecular characteristics associated with outcomes in breast cancer patients treated with CDK4/6inhibitors: Results from the AURORA Molecular Screening Initiative”


The Breast International Group, its research groups, and investigators and Headquarters’ staff are deeply grateful to all of those who have contributed generously to support AURORA over the years, through grants and donations: The Breast Cancer Research Foundation® (BCRF) as the main funder; Fondation Cancer (Luxembourg); Pfizer grant for non-drug research; Fondation contre le Cancer (Belgium); National Lottery (Belgium) and all its players; NIF Foundation; Barrie and Dena Webb; Candriam; the Fund Friends of BIG managed by the King Baudouin Foundation; Martine Piccart; the Hotimsky family; Sogerim; Think Pink Belgium (SMART Fund); Cognizant Foundation; Eurofins Foundation; Fondation Futur 21; and many individual donors. Without their precious support, AURORA would not be possible.

AURORA study description

Click here to learn more.


¹Harbeck N, Penault-Llorca F, Cortes J, et al. Breast cancer. Nat Rev Dis Primers 5(1):66. Sep 23, 2019 doi: 10.1038/s41572-019-0111-2
²Ross C, Szczepanek K, Lee M, et al. The genomic landscape of metastasis in treatment-naïve breast cancer models. PLoS Genet 16(5):
e1008743. May 28, 2020. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1008743
³Aftimos P, Oliveira M, Irrthum A, et al. Genomic and Transcriptomic Analyses of Breast Cancer Primaries and Matched Metastases in
AURORA, the Breast International Group (BIG) Molecular Screening Initiative. Cancer Discov (2021) 11 (11): 2796–2811, doi: 10.1158/2159-

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