Published October 25, 2013
Through her startup firm, University at Buffalo researcher Kate Rittenhouse-Olson, PhD ’84, is turning a mouse antibody she created into a promising cancer-fighting therapy for humans.
The drug is being perfected and prepared for human clinical trials by For-Robin Inc., the firm Rittenhouse-Olson founded in 2012 to fight breast cancer — the disease that killed her sister, Robin.
“Our antibody may be able to give hard-to-treat cancer patients a treatment option to hard-core chemotherapy,” says the professor of biotechnical and clinical laboratory sciences.
While fine-tuning the JAA-F11 antibody for use in humans and enhancing its effectiveness, Rittenhouse-Olson and her team also are exploring other potential uses.
They are working to replace some of the antibody’s mouse parts with human parts to decrease the chance that human immune systems will reject it.
Adjustments underway also may make it possible for JAA-F11 to directly kill tumor cells, since the antibody is expected to bind only with cancer cells.
Current research will help determine if the antibody can be used to deliver cancer-fighting drugs to breast cancer cells, Rittenhouse-Olson says.
She also plans to research JAA-F11’s utility as a cancer imaging agent to help doctors precisely locate tumors.
Rittenhouse-Olson originally created the antibody by cloning a mouse spleen cell with a mouse tumor cell.
She and her team have been testing JAA-F11 for more than two decades, with promising results.
In petri dish experiments with human cells as well as in vivo studies, her team has found that JAA-F11 stops breast cancer tumors from metastasizing to other parts of the body.
The antibody works by binding to and blocking the Thomsen-Friedenreich antigen, a molecular structure that helps cancer cells cling to and travel through blood vessels.
“The antibody reacts with 80 percent of human breast cancer cell lines tested, including ‘triple-negative’ lines that don’t respond to common types of targeted drugs,” Rittenhouse-Olson says.
Moreover, JAA-F11 may effectively treat several types of cancer, she adds.
“We showed that it blocked breast cancer from going to the lungs in mice, and other researchers have shown the same effect in prostate and colon cancer cells.”
Triple-negative cancer is more prevalent in young women like Rittenhouse-Olson’s sister, who died in 1986 at age 31 from breast cancer.
Robin’s name lives on in her sister’s firm, which has recently received more than $360,000 in startup funds.
Grants include $282,224 from the National Cancer Institute’s Small Business Technology Transfer program; $50,000 from the Bruce Holm Memorial Catalyst Fund at UB; and $30,373 from the UB Center for Advanced Biomedical and Bioengineering Technology, funded by NYSTAR, Empire State Development’s Division of Science, Technology and Innovation.
The company also is participating in UB’s Entrepreneur-In-Residence (EIR) program, which pairs university spinoffs with experienced mentors.
Bob Redd, a Western New York Venture Association board member, is assisting For-Robin with help from UB law, business and pharmacy students. They are developing a business plan for the startup and assessing the potential market for JAA-F11.
UB’s Office of Science, Technology Transfer and Economic Outreach runs the program with funding from the State University of New York’s EIR program and the federal Economic Development Administration.