UB spinoff company For-Robin moves one step closer to human clinical trials

October 17, 2017, University at Buffalo
Mouse cancer cells under a microscope. The bright whitish dots show where For-Robin's humanized antibody has penetrated the cells. The antibody is also capable of penetrating and killing human tumor cells. Credit: Credit: Loukia Karacosta/For-Robin Inc.

Scientists from For-Robin Inc., a University at Buffalo biotechnology spinoff, have published new scientific results showing that the company's cancer-fighting antibody can target, penetrate and kill human tumor cells effectively.

The findings, reported in September in the journal Neoplasia, bring the company one step closer to human clinical trials.

"This is a very exciting time, because a lot of the important science has been completed," says UB medical researcher Kate Rittenhouse-Olson, PhD, president and founder of For-Robin. "What we are focused on now is fundraising and preparing for human clinical trials, which will include scaling up production of our antibody under controlled conditions that meet the requirements of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration."

Rittenhouse-Olson, a longtime professor of biotechnical and clinical laboratory sciences in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB, left her teaching position at the university in late September to focus full-time on For-Robin. Her company, which is in the START-UP NY economic development program, maintains its headquarters and labs on UB's South Campus.

For-Robin's current focus is on raising funds from investors and philanthropic organizations, and on identifying a partner in the pharmaceutical industry that can move the startup's antibody into human clinical trials.

Rittenhouse-Olson said a number of large pharmaceutical companies are already considering For-Robin's product.

From Oct. 23-25, she will attend the BioNetwork Partnering Summit, where she will pursue additional opportunities, meeting one-on-one with major pharmaceutical firms. The National Institutes of Health, which previously supported For-Robin's research with a $2 million grant, is funding Rittenhouse-Olson's participation in the event.

Fighting triple-negative cancers

For-Robin's product is a monoclonal antibody called JAA-F11. Originally produced in mice, this antibody binds to the Thomsen-Friedenreich antigen, a molecule found on about 80 percent of all cancer cells, but not on .

JAA-F11 fights tumors in a number of ways: First, it blocks the activity of the Thomsen-Friedenreich antigen (normally, this antigen helps cancer cells spread to other tissues). Second, the antibody attaches to cancer cells on one end and on the other, which in essence flags tumors as dangerous foreign objects that the body should destroy. Third, the antibody, when bound to chemotherapeutic agents, can deliver these drugs directly to cancer cells.

In the new Neoplasia paper, Rittenhouse-Olson and her colleagues report that they have humanized JAA-F11, altering various parts of its structure to prevent rejection by the human immune system.

The team found that humanized forms of JAA-F11:

  • Successfully targeted, penetrated and killed human in human tumors grafted into mice—while leaving healthy, noncancerous cells unharmed.
  • Carried maytansine, a chemotherapeutic drug, into human breast cancer cells in human tumors grafted into mice. The antibody delivered this payload of cancer-fighting compounds directly into tumor cells, killing these cells while leaving healthy unharmed.
  • Prevented human breast from binding to , which is one of the steps in the metastasis or spread of tumors, in experiments performed in a petri dish.

What makes these findings even more exciting is that JAA-F11 is effective against human triple-negative breast cancer. This is a form of breast cancer that doesn't respond to common drugs that target estrogen, progesterone and HER-2 receptors.

The scientists have completed additional research showing that JAA-F11 can fight about 80 percent of lung cancers, but this work has not yet been published.

A company with a personal mission

For-Robin is named for Rittenhouse-Olson's sister, Robin, who died of breast cancer in 1986 at the age of 31. Rittenhouse-Olson recalls her as a bright young woman who planted tulips and hyacinths in her yard, baked a mean chocolate silk pie, hosted dinner parties with brown-sugar-dipped scallops wrapped in bacon, and gave the teenagers she worked with as a counselor in Pittsford, N.Y., the dose of tough love they needed to get through the hardest problems in life.

For-Robin President and Founder Kate Rittenhouse-Olson, second from right, with For-Robin team members. From left to right: Diala Ghazal, Fatma Zalzala, John Fisk, Sally Quataert, Susan Morey and James Olson. Credit: Douglas Levere/University at Buffalo

The memory of her sister, and the desire to help people like her, is what drives Rittenhouse-Olson. That philosophy—of wanting to help—is ingrained in her company as well.

"I'm really happy to help with Kate's dream," says John Fisk, a senior scientist at For-Robin who earned his PhD in microbiology at UB. "She is selfless. Her commitment to her product and her desire to see this get to the next stage are all driven by her desire to help people, and that is something that I can get behind wholeheartedly."

"Our goal is—and has always been—to bring our product from the bench to the bedside, to the patient," says James Olson, PhD, For-Robin vice president and a professor of epidemiology and environmental health in UB's School of Public Health and Health Professions and of pharmacology and toxicology in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB. "We're ready to move onto the next step, which is human clinical trials."

Explore further: Preclinical study finds antitumor effects of bispecific antibody

More information: Swetha Tati et al, Humanization of JAA-F11, a Highly Specific Anti-Thomsen-Friedenreich Pancarcinoma Antibody and In Vitro Efficacy Analysis, Neoplasia (2017). DOI: 10.1016/j.neo.2017.07.001

Related Stories

Preclinical study finds antitumor effects of bispecific antibody

October 5, 2017
Chugai Pharmaceutical announced today that the preclinical study findings on its original bispecific antibody ERY974, a molecule that binds Glypican-3 and CD3 simultaneously, and that is currently under development as a Phase ...

Researchers developing drug for recurring ER-positive breast cancer

August 30, 2017
Researchers at UT Health San Antonio and two partner institutions are developing a new, first-in-class agent that has stopped the growth of estrogen receptor-positive (ER-positive) breast cancer in its tracks. The new agent ...

New antibody appears to re-activate immune system in cancer therapy

June 28, 2017
Adding an investigational antibody to the chemotherapy rituximab appears to restore its cancer-killing properties in certain leukemia patients with a natural resistance to the drug, according to a small, proof-of-concept ...

Dietary intervention primes triple-negative breast cancer for targeted therapy

July 14, 2015
A diet that starves triple-negative breast cancer cells of an essential nutrient primes the cancer cells to be more easily killed by a targeted antibody treatment, UW Carbone Cancer Center scientists report in a recent publication.

Natural compound found in herbs, vegetables could improve treatment of triple-negative breast cancer in women

January 23, 2017
More than 100 women die from breast cancer every day in the United States. Triple-negative breast cancers, which comprise 15 to 20 percent of all breast tumors, are a particularly deadly type of breast disease that often ...

Antibody-drug compounds and immunotherapy to treat breast cancer

November 25, 2015
To more efficiently treat breast cancer, scientists have been researching molecules that selectively bind to cancer cells and deliver a substance that can kill the tumor cells, for several years. Researchers from the University ...

Recommended for you

Student develops microfluidics device to help scientists identify early genetic markers of cancer

October 16, 2018
As anyone who has played "Where's Waldo" knows, searching for a single item in a landscape filled with a mélange of characters and objects can be a challenge. Chrissy O'Keefe, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Biomedical ...

Technique to 'listen' to a patient's brain during tumour surgery

October 16, 2018
Surgeons could soon eavesdrop on a patient's brain activity during surgery to remove their brain tumour, helping improve the accuracy of the operation and reduce the risk of impairing brain function.

Researchers elucidate roles of TP63 and SOX2 in squamous cell cancer progression

October 16, 2018
Squamous cell carcinomas (SCCs) are aggressive malignancies arising from the squamous epithelium of various organs, such as the esophagus, head and neck, lungs, and skin. Previous studies have demonstrated that two master ...

Function of neutrophils during tumor progression unraveled

October 15, 2018
Researchers at The Wistar Institute have characterized the function of neutrophils, a type of white blood cells, during early stages of tumor progression, showing that they migrate from the bone marrow to distant sites and ...

Delving where few others have gone, leukemia researchers open new path

October 15, 2018
A Wilmot Cancer Institute study uncovers how a single gene could be at fault in acute myeloid leukemia (AML), one of the deadliest cancers. The breakthrough gives researchers renewed hope that a gene-targeted therapy could ...

3-D mammography detected 34% more breast cancers in screening

October 15, 2018
In traditional mammography screening, all breast tissue is captured in a single image. Breast tomosynthesis, on the other hand, is three-dimensional and works according to the same principle as what is known as tomography. ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.