Published June 8, 2015
For-Robin, a company founded and led by a Kate Rittenhouse-Olson, PhD, will further study and develop a promising potential cancer treatment.
The next steps in the research and development process will be funded with a $2 million grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI).
“This grant means we’ll be one step closer to bringing this potential therapy to patients,” says Kate Rittenhouse-Olson, PhD ’84, professor of biotechnical and clinical laboratory sciences. She launched the company in 2012 and is now president.
“We can begin testing the therapeutic possibilities of our humanized antibodies in animal cancer models,” she says.
For-Robin’s core technology is the JAA-F11 antibody that binds to cancer cells and prevents the metastasis, or spread, of cancer to other parts of the body.
Although the primary target is breast cancer, the antibody has also shown promise in fighting colon, prostate and bladder carcinomas.
Rittenhouse-Olson’s team has shown that treating mice with JAA-F11 — originally produced as a mouse monoclonal antibody — can prevent breast cancer from spreading.
It works by binding to the Thomsen-Friedenreich antigen found only on cancer cells, not normal cells. This antigen helps tumor cells spread to other tissues, so blocking its activity with the antibody makes it difficult for cancer to spread, explains Rittenhouse-Olson.
For-Robin’s recent research has focused on “humanizing” the antibody — altering various parts of its structure to prevent rejection by the human immune system.
The researchers have developed several variations of the antibody.
These humanized JAA-F11 antibodies demonstrate added benefits. Some can be pulled into cancer cells, providing a possible vehicle to carry drugs directly to tumors. Others can bind with cancer-killing white blood cells, potentially aiding the body’s own immune system to locate and destroy harmful cells.
For-Robin is named after Rittenhouse-Olson’s sister, Robin, who died of breast cancer at age 31.
The company is one example of a successful start-up firm that is building on UB’s scientific research.
“Companies like For-Robin are an important part of Western New York’s growing life sciences economy,” says Congressman Brian Higgins, who jointly announced the grant with UB. “This award demonstrates how innovations in our region are attracting the attention of the nation’s top funding agencies.”
The grant was awarded through NCI’s Small Business Technology Transfer program.
For-Robin previously received support from the NCI along with several university and state sources, including UB’s Bruce Holm Memorial Catalyst Fund.
Rittenhouse-Olson’s research and development team includes the following UB students, alumni and faculty: