EnGeneIC, scientists search for antibodies to grab hold of tumors

It has been a couple of years since we've checked in with Australia's EnGeneIC, which is developing what it calls "minicells"--bacteria-derived drug-delivery devices coated with antibodies that grab hold of tumor cells to deliver either anti-cancer drugs or gene-silencing siRNA. However, two years after the company's breakthrough paper was published in Nature Biotechnology, the antibodies developed by EnGenIC have turned out not to be "optimal," according to Australian researchers. That's where the University of Queensland is stepping in, collaborating with EnGeneIC to develop better antibodies.

To help the process, the Australian Research Council has thrown A$352,000 (about $376,000) at the project over three years. UQ associate professor Stephen Mahler, Dr. Trent Munro and Dr. Martina Jones hope to identify receptors on cancer cells and develop antibodies to target them. The antibodies will have two "arms," one to grab the minicell and the other to bind to the tumor cell receptor.

The "specific" action of minicells will help solve the current problem associated with general cancer treatment--harming healthy cells as well as the tumor.

"The targeted minicell will circumvent current problems associated with cancer treatment such as development of multi-drug resistance and limited drug potency due to inadequate concentration at the cell surface," Mahler said in a release. "The minicell is a drug delivery vehicle, capable of packaging a variety of drugs at concentrations thousands of times greater than other known particles."

- read the release from the University of Queensland