Nano Argovia projects – A robust combination in the fight against cancer

In the Nano Argovia project B7H3 Nanobody PC, researchers are developing an innovative nanobody-polymer conjugate — a combination of a cell-specific nanobody and a polymer substrate that can be loaded with different active substances. This is intended for use in the fight against cancer, where the aim is for the nanobody-polymer conjugate to be able to cross the blood-brain barrier and bind to a specific target molecule on the surface of cancer cells. Depending on the active substance that is subsequently released, it may allow the successful combating or imaging of cancer cells in the brain.

Dr. Daniela Winkler and Michael Hackebeil from CIS Pharma produce the polymer carrier used in the Nano Argovia project. (Image: CIS Pharma)

Nanobodies that bind to specific molecules
Despite significant advances in research, cancer remains one of the most common and deadly diseases in the Western world. Nowadays, conventional treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy are often complemented by antibody-containing medications that bind to very specific molecules on the surface of cancer cells. Nanobodies — also known as single-domain antibodies — are developed in order to specifically bind to proteins that are particularly commonplace in this location. If these nanobodies are combined with polymer substrates, which can be loaded with various therapeutic or diagnostic active substances, they also pave the way for new treatment approaches. These nanobody-polymer conjugates are more robust than antibodies and only about a tenth of the size, and the researchers aim to vary their composition to allow them to cross the blood-brain barrier.

In the Nano Argovia project B7H3 Nanobody PC, a team of scientists led by Dr. Christian Geraths (CIS Pharma AG) is combining a newly developed humanized nanobody with a technology developed by CIS Pharma that allows polymer substrates to be loaded with a therapeutic payload or a diagnostic reagent.

The target molecule selected by the team of researchers from CIS Pharma, the FHNW School of Life Sciences, the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI and the University Children’s Hospital Zurich (without funding from the SNI) is a protein that is produced in greater quantities on the surface of cancer cells in some 60 percent of cancers. For this reason, the newly developed nanobodies specifically bind to this type of tumor cells in order to release their cargo into them in a controlled manner without attacking healthy cells.

Suitable for therapy and diagnostics
The scientists are also exploring the possibility of using the nanobody-polymer conjugate to specifically target cancer cells with growth-inhibiting substances (e.g. radioactive isotopes). In addition, they are investigating whether the method is suitable for monitoring courses of treatment or for use in early detection.

This approach might also be successful at treating brain tumors (glioblastoma), which has so far only been possible to a limited extent. Here, it is necessary for active substances to cross the blood-brain barrier — and the plan is to achieve this using the nanobody-polymer conjugate.

“We’re optimistic that our modular technology, with its high degree of flexibility, will also be suitable for diagnosing and treating cancers that require substances to cross the blood-brain barrier.”

Dr. Christian Geraths, CSO at CIS Pharma AG

Further information:

Nano Argovia program

CIS Pharma AG

FHNW School of Life Sciences

Paul Scherrer Institute

University Children’s Hospital Zurich