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Cancer Therapy Spin-Off Gets $2M Small Business Grant

Kate Rittenhouse-Olson

Kate Rittenhouse-Olson (Douglas Levere, University at Buffalo)

4 May 2015. A three year-old company started by a University at Buffalo microbiologist received a $2 million grant to develop an antibody into a clinical treatment for breast and other types of cancer. For-Robin in Williamsville, New York, received the two-year award from National Cancer Institute, part of National Institutes of Health, under the agency’s Small Business Technology Transfer program.

For-Robin was founded in 2012 by Kate Rittenhouse-Olson, a microbiology professor at Buffalo, to bring to market her research on carbohydrate antigens, considered to play a key role in the growth and spread of cancer cells, and antibodies aimed specifically to combat them. The company is named for Rittenhouse-Olson’s sister, who died of breast cancer in 1986 at age 31, which makes the enterprise much more than a commercial enterprise to its founder.

The antigen targeted by the company is Thomsen-Friedenreich glycoantigen, absent or masked by carbohydrates in normal tissue, but present in several human cancers, including breast, colon, bladder, and prostate. Rittenhouse-Olson and For-Robin aim to develop an antibody called JAA-F11, designed to bind on and stop the growth of human cancer cells with Thomsen-Friedenreich antigens on their surface.

Rittenhouse-Olson already developed a version of JAA-F11 for tests with mice showing the antibody has a high affinity for and binds to Thomsen-Friedenreich antigens, which stops the metastasis, or spread, of cancer to other parts of the body. Studies show mice implanted with breast tumors and injected twice weekly with JAA-F11 experience less metastasis of their cancer than similar mice not receiving JAA-F11. Mice injected with JAA-F11 also live longer than those not receiving the antibody.

Rittenhouse-Olson received a patent for the JAA-F11 technology in 2008, assigned to the university. The National Cancer Institute grant funds For-Robin to further develop JAA-F11 into a human antibody that can qualify for FDA approval to test in clinical trials. A “humanized” form of the JAA-F11 will be engineered to prevent rejection by the body’s immune system.

The grant calls for the company to design two forms of the therapy: (1) as a direct immunotherapy agent and (2) as an antibody drug conjugate absorbed into the cancer cell, where the cancer-killing chemicals are then released. Antibody drug conjugates combine highly targeted antibodies with chemotherapy drugs, with the potential for fewer side effects than traditional chemotherapy.

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