Affibody molecules targeting HER3 for cancer therapy

University dissertation from KTH Royal Institute of Technology

Abstract: The development of targeted therapy has contributed tremendously to the treatment of patients with cancer. The use of highly specific affinity proteins to target cancer cells has become a standard in treatment strategies for several different cancers. In light of this, many cancer cell markers are investigated for their potential use in diagnostics and therapy. One such marker is the human epidermal growth factor receptor 3, HER3. It has been established as an important contributor to many cancer types. The function of HER3 is to relay cell growth signals from outside of the cell to the inside. Interfering with- and inhibit- ing the function of HER3 has emerged as an interesting strategy for cancer therapeutics. The studies presented in this thesis aim to target HER3 with small, engineered affinity domain proteins for therapeutic purposes. Monomeric affibody molecules have previously been engineered to bind and inhibit HER3 in vitro. Due to the relatively low expression of HER3, an increase in valency appears promising to strengthen the therapeutic potential. Affibody molecules targeting the receptor were thus linked to form bivalent and bispecific constructs and evaluated both in vitro and in vivo. In the first study of this thesis affibody molecules specific for HER3 and HER2 were fused to an albumin binding domain to form bivalent and bispecific construct. The constructs inhibited ligand-induced receptor phos- phorylation of both HER2 and HER3 more efficiently than monomeric affibody molecules. A second approach to enhance the potential of affibody molecules in tumor targeting is described in the second study, where monomeric HER3-binding affibody molecules were engineered to increase their affinity for HER3. The resulting variants showed a 20-fold in- creased affinity and higher capacity to inhibit cancer cell growth. Combining the findings of the first two studies, the third study describes the evaluation of a HER3-targeting bivalent affibody construct for potential application as a therapeutic. Here, the bivalent construct inhibited cancer cell growth in vitro and was found to slow down tumor growth in mice, while being well tolerated and showing no visible toxicity. The fourth study built upon these findings and compares a very similar bivalent construct to the clinically-investigated HER3-specific monoclonal antibody seribantumab. The affibody construct showed very comparable efficacy with the antibody in terms of decreasing tumor growth rate and ex- tending mouse survival. Collectively, these works describe for the first time the use of alternative affinity protein constructs with therapeutic potential targeting HER3.