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Univ. Spinoff Qualifies for NIH Clinical Program

Kate Rittenhouse-Olson and John Fisk

For-Robin founder Kate Rittenhouse-Olson, right, with company scientist John Fisk (Douglas Levere, University at Buffalo)

8 May 2018. An enterprise developing a synthetic antibody to treat breast cancer, spun-off from a University at Buffalo research lab, is taking part in a federal program to advance the treatments to clinical trials. The company, For-Robin Inc. in Williamsville, New York, says it qualifies for the National Cancer Institute Experimental Therapeutics, or Next, program that assists promising cancer therapies navigate technical and regulatory pathways to prepare for clinical studies.

For-Robin Inc., founded by Buffalo biotechnology professor Kate Rittenhouse-Olson, is commercializing a synthetic antibody code-named JAA-F11 that addresses a specific target: the Thomsen-Friedenreich antigen, or TF-Ag. This antigen is absent or masked by carbohydrates in normal tissue, but present in several human cancers, including breast, colon, bladder, and prostate. Rittenhouse-Olson’s research led to development of JAA-F11, which binds on and blocks the growth of human cancer cells with Thomsen-Friedenreich antigens on their surface.

As reported in Science & Enterprise, For-Robin tested a humanized form of JAA-F11 antibody, engineered to prevent rejection by the immune system, in lab cultures and mice. The results show in lab cultures the humanized antibody kills cells from both breast and lung cancer tumors. In mice grafted with human breast tumors, the antibody stopped the growth of these tumors, both working alone and combined with maytansine, a cancer-killing compound. The authors report the antibody also prevented tumor cells from binding with blood vessel cells to help prevent spread of the cancer, and non-cancerous cells were unaffected by the treatments.

This latter finding indicates an added value to the JAA-F11 antibody, blocking the spread of cancer through metastasis. The company says TF-Ag plays a critical role in the metastasis process, thus JAA-F11 has long term potential to block metastasis extending patient survival. For-Robin anticipates JAA-F11 to eventually target all types of breast and lung cancer cells including triple-negative breast cancer where no targeted therapy currently exists.

The Next program is expected to give For-Robin a boost in advancing JAA-F11 to clinical trials. National Cancer Institute, part of National Institutes of Health, puts participants in contact with specific resources they need to get closer to the beginning of clinical trials, often a major undertaking for small enterprises. For-Robin requested help from the Next program to conduct safety tests with lab animals, produce sufficient quantities of JAA-F11 for safety tests in animals and humans, and complete an investigational new drug application with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, whose approval is needed to begin clinical trials.

While the Next program does not provide grant funding, the assistance provided has economic benefits. For-Robin estimates the help provided by the program will save the company some $4 million. “If testing and production are successful,” notes Rittenhouse-Olson in a university statement, “the program will bring us right to the point where we will be ready to test the drug in people fighting cancer. It’s a very selective program, so we feel very fortunate.”

While Rittenhouse-Olson serves full time as president of For-Robin, she still holds a professor emeritus title with the university’s medical school. The company is more than a commercial venture to Rittenhouse-Olson. The enterprise is named for her sister Robin who died of breast cancer at age 31, and provides a daily motivation for the venture.

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