Staff profile: Dr Maggie Cheang

Dr Maggie Cheang is Team Leader for ICR-CTSU Integrative Genomic Analysis in Clinical Trials at the Institute of Cancer Research, London (ICR). Support from the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) at The Royal Marsden and the ICR has helped progress her research into molecular subtyping and breast cancer.

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Maggie Cheang

What does your role at the ICR involve?

I am the Team Leader for the ICR-CTSU Integrative Genomic Analysis in Clinical Trials. My multidisciplinary team of statistical, computational and translational scientists analyse large datasets generated from bio-specimens collected in clinical trials to study the underlying biology of tumours. I also work with my colleagues in trial operation and management teams by leading on the biomarker and bioinformatics data analysis for their clinical trials.

My core research goal is to develop genomic classifiers for tumour subtypes and determine how they can be used in clinic to predict how patients will respond to treatments. I hope to achieve this by combining molecular pathology and artificial intelligence (machine learning) approaches.

What research activities are you currently involved in?

My research interest lies in molecular subtyping. One of my projects is looking at identifying which patients are resistant to endocrine therapy (ET), also known as hormone therapy - a treatment that blocks the effect of oestrogen on breast cancer cells- and applying deep dive molecular characterisations that link to patient outcomes. Through this I am hoping to identify which patients would respond to aromatase inhibitors, which are drugs used in the treatment of breast cancer, and who will not. 

The results of the POETIC trial, which was supported by the BRC, suggested that testing women’s response to hormone therapy for breast cancer, given around the time of surgery, could predict how likely the disease is to come back. We’re now in the process of setting up POETIC – A, to test whether a new drug called abemaciclib, given in combination with standard ET, is more effective than giving ET alone.

Through previous research I co-invented PAM50, the 50 genes-based classifier for the intrinsic subtypes of breast cancer, which is integrated into multiple international clinical practice guidelines. PAM50 (commercially known as ProsignaÒ) helps to identify whether breast cancer patients with node negative hormone receptor positive tumours would gain any survival probability if treated with chemotherapy or not.

How has the BRC supported your work?

I was awarded two pump priming grants from the BRC’s Breast Cancer research theme, which helped support my projects and provide leverage for more financial support. One of these grants helped me secure additional funding to conduct gene expression profiling for 700 triple negative breast cancer patients, and my team and I are now working to decode those molecular characterisations and link them to patient outcomes.

Working within the Breast Cancer theme has allowed me to build relationships with clinicians and researchers at The Royal Marsden. This collaborative working allows me to hear about pressing clinical questions that need addressing for patients and helps inform the research questions I consider in the lab.

The BRC is also part-funding an educational course - Clinical Omics Technologies In Precision Management of Cancer – that I’m running on 15-16 July 2021. It will be an excellent opportunity to share knowledge with established professionals and the researchers of tomorrow, to ultimately provide better cancer care and treatment.

How does your research help people with cancer?

My research looks at trying to pair breast cancer patients to the best treatments based on their molecular characterisations. By understanding patients’ characterisations, we can work towards identifying better treatments for those with breast cancer and better predicting their survival outcome in response to available treatments.  

Our research: Breast Cancer

Find out more about our Breast Cancer  theme and how our research has led to significant improvements in care and the introduction of new treatment options for patients.