Dr. Kate Rittenhouse-Olson is Director of University at Buffalo’s (UB) Biotechnology Undergraduate Program and Founding President of For-Robin Inc.
For-Robin is a company developing a promising drug: an antibody that stops breast cancer tumors from metastasizing to other parts of the body. The product, called JAA-F11, binds to the Thomsen-Friedenreich glycoantigen (TF-Ag), which is a unique target expressed on the surface of about 80% of breast, colon, bladder, prostate and other carcinomas. The key is that JAA-F11 is highly selective and is not expected to bind on normal tissues. JAA-F11 was discovered in Dr. Rittenhouse-Olson’s UB laboratory and she then spun off the company with the mission of translating the product from the laboratory to commercial/clinical use.
Dr. Rittenhouse-Olson was a post-doctoral fellow at Roswell Park Cancer Institute (RPCI) wherein she gained clinical tumor immunology experience with Dr. T. Ming Chu, (the discoverer of Prostate Specific Antigen for diagnosis) and then carbohydrate experience with Dr. Khushi Matta. For over 25 years, her UB laboratory has been involved in studying carbohydrate tumor associated antigens, and primarily TF-Ag. Last year, she and her colleague Ernesto De Nardin published a textbook, “Contemporary Clinical Immunology and Serology,” for which she drew the original diagrams for many of its illustrations of molecules.
Dr. Rittenhouse-Olson is also interested in exploring JAA-F11’s utility as a cancer imaging agent and tumor killer. The antibody is only expected to bind with cancer cells, which means doctors could use it to locate tumors, or to deliver cancer-fighting compounds straight to cancer cells. In addition, the alterations that researchers are making to the antibody may make it possible for the antibody to directly kill tumor cells.
Q. What is the significance of the name of your company, For-Robin?
A. For-Robin is named in memory of my sister, Robin, who died in 1986 due to breast cancer at the age of 31. My sister Robin was a special person, a mix of many things funny and serious. She was a hard worker and also an entrepreneur. She was a leader and was in charge of a group of counselors in Fairport, NY. She told the teenagers she counseled that there would be people in their lives that would say mean or hurtful things to them, sometimes even under the guise of a normal conversation. She taught them to answer not with their fists or with mean words, but with the simple and controlled sentence “How do you expect me to feel now that you have said that?”. This was a great way to turn around a situation without escalating it. She had teenage foster children, children that had drug or criminal records and would have been difficult to place anywhere else. She loved them and they loved her.
Q. What assistance has For Robin received in its early stages, both monetary and otherwise?
A. For-Robin, established in 2012 and renting laboratory space at University at Buffalo, has received the following assistance:
- A Phase I STTR grant from the National Cancer Institute Grant #: 1R41CA176951, in the amount of $282K for the project period 5/1/2013 to 4/30/2014. The Grant was awarded based on a peer review of the science and its promise as a future therapeutic for the treatment of breast cancer.
- A matching University at Buffalo Bruce Holm Catalyst grant in the amount of $50K.
- A matching University at Buffalo Center for Advanced Biomedical and Bioengineering Technology (UB CAT) grant in the amount of $30K.
- Business development help from UB-STOR in the form of an entrepreneur-in-residence, Robert Redd, and innovation interns Connor Flynn, John D. Fraczek and David Huoh.
- Development guidance from the pre-seed workshop sponsored by the Center of Excellence (COE), prior to business formation and set-up
Q. Did you consider other areas for start-up beside Buffalo Niagara, if so why did you choose Western NY?
A. I choose Buffalo, and will choose to remain in Buffalo because of the
support network here, including UB STOR, the COE, and the University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences faculty and students.
Q. What were the first steps you took in your process of starting up?
A. I began by talking to area biotech entrepreneurs who were very generous with their time and advice. Buffalo’s greatest asset is the collegiality of the members of the biotech sector. Even a year later, attracting talent from this area and specifically from UB is easy. I recently recruited an excellent post-doctoral fellow, Loukia Karacosta.
A. We are in our first year of funded support from the NCI STTR. Our most recent data is moving us rapidly forward and the next step is to ready the antibody for human clinical trials by replacing some mouse parts with human parts. The alterations, which are underway, will decrease the chance of patients’ immune systems rejecting the antibody. My husband, James Olson a toxicologist who is also at UB is deeply involved in supporting this venture, and my good friend Sally Quataert, Director of the Human Immunology Center (HIC) Core Laboratory, at the University of Rochester, is facilitating our business efforts as well. Through a subcontract to my lab at UB, Susan Morey at lab manager at UB, Julia Abdullah, a Ph.D. student in the Microbiology Department at UB, Jing Ying Eng a master’s student in Biotechnical and Clinical Laboratory Science at UB, Bethany Cross and Ashley Rohl, undergraduates at UB are involved in the development of the JAA-F11 antibody.
My life works in Buffalo Niagara because of the support of the scientific, business and academic communities in the Buffalo Niagara region.
by Alan Rosenhoch, Business Development Manager