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Biotech, Univ. Lab Partner on Cancer Antibodies

Nerve cells illustration

(Colin Behrens, Pixabay)

31 Jan. 2019. A biotechnology company is engaging the services of a children’s cancer researcher to develop an antibody for treating neuroblastoma, a type of cancer that affects the nervous system. Financial arrangements between Invenra Inc. in Madison, Wisconsin and pediatrics professor Paul Sondel at University of Wisconsin medical school, through the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, the university’s technology transfer arm, were not disclosed.

Neuroblastoma mainly affects infants and young children age 5 and under. The disease results from aberrations in nerve cells connected with the functioning of organs, such as kidneys and adrenal glands, and in the abdomen. The cancers often occur in early-stage nerve cells called neuroblasts in ganglia, collections of nerve cells that govern the working of these organs. In some children, neuroblastoma spreads quickly through the body, while in other children, the spread is slower, or may stop spreading and become benign on its own. According to American Cancer Society, neuroblastoma is the most common cancer in infants, accounting for for 6 percent of all childhood cancer, with about 800 new cases diagnosed in the U.S. each year.

Sondel’s lab, also in Madison, studies highly targeted synthetic antibodies that invoke the immune system to treat neuroblastoma. Synthetic antibodies created by the lab generate production of interleukin-2 cytokines that stimulate natural killer T-cells in the immune system to attack tumor cells. The lab says results from preclinical studies and clinical trials conducted by Children’s Oncology Group, part of the National Cancer Institute network, show increased disease-free survival in children with high-risk neuroblastoma.

Invenra is asking for Sondel’s help to adapt its technology to more precisely target synthetic antibodies that treat neuroblastoma. The company develops antibodies that work like natural immunoglobulin antibodies, but bind to two or more sites on target cells. The Invenra targeting technology, called Sniper, selects the multiple targets for antibodies to identify binding sites only on tumor cells, not on healthy cells or tissue, to reduce the chance of adverse effects, including unwanted toxicities and pain. The idea for the collaboration grew out of previous work by Sondel for Invenra, where Sondel is one of the company’s advisors.

“Invenra’s Sniper technology should enable creation of antibody-based therapies that are specifically able to target tumor cells while not binding to normal tissues,” says Sondel in a company statement. Roland Green, Invenra’s co-founder and CEO adds, “This program also has the potential to treat patients with a variety of other cancers such as glioblastoma, a form of brain cancer, melanoma and small cell lung cancer.”

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