BUFFALO, N.Y. — The name of Kate Rittenhouse-Olson’s
cancer therapeutics company is For-Robin Inc.
It’s an appellation that honors the memory of her sister,
a bright young woman who loved flowers, 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.
Robin died of breast cancer in 1986 at the age of 31. At her
funeral and after, young people told stories about how
Robin’s guidance kept them alive — away from drugs, out
of trouble, and hopeful for the future.
Rittenhouse-Olson, now a University at Buffalo biotechnology
professor, was a postdoctoral researcher at the time of
Robin’s passing. She resolved to learn as much as she could
about cancer, with the goal of fighting it one day.
Twenty-six years later, Rittenhouse-Olson is founding president
of For-Robin Inc., a company
developing a promising drug: an antibody that stops breast cancer
tumors from metastasizing to other parts of the body.
The For-Robin antibody is called JAA-F11. Produced by mice, it
binds to a part of a cancer cell called the Thomsen-Friedenreich
antigen (TF), a molecular structure that helps cancer cells cling
to and travel through blood vessels.
By blocking TF, researchers in Rittenhouse-Olson’s UB lab
prevented breast cancer from spreading in mice, and in petri dish
experiments with human cells. Tests are underway to determine if
the antibody can also be used to deliver cancer-fighting drugs to
breast cancer cells, Rittenhouse-Olson said.
“The antibody reacts with 80 percent of human breast
cancer cell lines tested, including ones called
‘triple-negative,’ which don’t respond to common
types of targeted drugs,” she said.
“Robin died 26 years ago at a young age, and
triple-negative cancer is more prevalent in young women like
that,” she added. “For this population, the only thing
that really works is hard-core chemotherapy. Our antibody may be
able to give these patients a new option.”
For-Robin, established in 2012, has received an infusion of
startup funds in recent months, including:
- $282,224 from the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR)
program of the National Cancer Institute, one of the National
Institutes of Health. Awarded in May.
- $50,000 from the Bruce Holm Memorial Catalyst Fund at
UB, which supports commercialization of UB inventions.
Awarded in July.
- $30,373 from the UB Center for Advanced Biomedical and
Bioengineering Technology (UB CAT), which supports
research and development projects that pair local life sciences
firms with UB scientists. The UB CAT is funded by NYSTAR, Empire
State Development’s Division of Science, Technology and
Innovation. Awarded in July.
The STTR is the National Cancer Institute’s engine for
commercializing technologies to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer.
The program’s support of For-Robin helped Rittenhouse-Olson
secure the UB CAT award, which requires entrepreneurs to come up
with matching funds, and the Holm award, which gives heightened
consideration to applicants with additional funding sources.
On the scientific front, For-Robin’s 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
Rittenhouse-Olson is also interested in exploring
JAA-F11’s utility as a cancer imaging agent and tumor
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.
JAA-F11 may be effective in several types of cancer,
Rittenhouse-Olson said: “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
On the startup front, For-Robin has joined UB’s
Entrepreneur-In-Residence (EIR) program, which pairs university
spinoffs with experienced entrepreneurs who can provide guidance on
business matters. The program, run by UB’s Office of
Science, Technology Transfer and Economic Outreach (STOR), is
funded by the federal Economic Development Administration and a
grant from SUNY’s EIR program.
For-Robin’s EIR is Bob Redd, a Western New York Venture
Association board member. Under his guidance, UB law, MBA and
pharmacy students working for STOR are assisting For-Robin with
projects that include developing a business plan and assessing the
potential market for JAA-F11.
To learn more about For-Robin: http://for-robin.com/