Antibody with engineered peptide targets bone metastasis

Cancer Prevention

HOUSTON – (Jan. 24, 2022) – A moderate amount of a peptide-enhanced, biological cancer drug goes a long way in treating breast cancers that metastasize to the bone. 

HOUSTON – (Jan. 24, 2022) – A moderate amount of a peptide-enhanced, biological cancer drug goes a long way in treating breast cancers that metastasize to the bone. 

A study by scientists at Rice University and Baylor College of Medicine demonstrated the effective treatment of such cancers in rodent models, bringing hope for new therapies to treat bone metastases. 

The open-access study, to appear on the cover of the American Chemical Society journal ACS Central Science, advances techniques pioneered by Rice chemist Han Xiao and his co-author at Baylor, biologist Xiang Zhang.

They discovered through extensive testing that engineering “bone-homing” peptides and attaching them to a common breast cancer drug, the antibody trastuzumab, effectively targets and attacks bone tumors. 

The researchers reported their surprise that injecting more of the drug compound doesn’t make it better. The drug contains an engineered peptide that finds and binds to bone, but worked best when a moderate amount was delivered. 

“The negative charge of the peptide has an affinity for the positively charged bone cancer niche,” said Xiao, whose lab created a library of modified antibodies for testing. “We found the therapeutic efficacy is best with the antibody that has mediocre affinity. That’s a really big discovery.”

As many as 40% of breast cancer survivors eventually experience metastases to distant organs, most often to the bone. Xiao noted bone tumors are notoriously difficult to treat, given the hard nature of the material and its limited vascular network. Delivering a low amount of a drug, he said, can also help tumors develop resistance. 

The study showed that peptide-enhanced antibodies also prevented secondary metastases from bone to other organs.

The researchers hope to find collaborators to move the strategy toward human trials. 

Rice postdoctoral fellow Zeru Tian and graduate student Chanfei Yu are co-lead authors of the paper. Co-authors are Baylor postdoctoral fellows Weijie Zhang and Zhan Xu and postdoctoral associate Ling Wu; Rice graduate students Kuan-Lin Wu, Chenhang Wang and Yuda Chen, and Rice alumna Ruchi Gupta, now a graduate student at Yale School of Medicine. 

Xiao is the Norman Hackerman-Welch Young Investigator and an assistant professor of chemistry, biosciences and bioengineering. Zhang is an associate professor of molecular and cellular biology and the McNair Scholar in the Lester and Sue Smith Breast Center at Baylor.

The Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas (RR170014), the National Institutes of Health (R35-GM133706, R21-CA255894, R01-AI165079, CA221946), the Robert A. Welch Foundation (C-1970), the Department of Defense (W81XWH-21-1-0789, DAMD W81XWH-16-1-0073), the John S. Dunn Foundation and a Hamill Innovation Award supported the research. 


Read the study at

This news release can be found online at

Follow Rice News and Media Relations via Twitter @RiceUNews.

Related materials:

Rice, Baylor win defense grant to advance metastasis study:

Drug doubles down on bone cancer, metastasis:

Xiao Research Group:

Zhang Lab:

Rice Department of Chemistry:

Wiess School of Natural Sciences:

Images for download:

A moderate amount of a peptide-enhanced breast cancer drug was found to be effective in fighting metastasis to the bone. The study by scientists at Rice University and Baylor College of Medicine is on the cover of ACS Central Science. (Credit: Illustration by the Xiao Research Group/Cover courtesy of ACS Central Science)

Scientists at Rice University added a bone-targeting peptide to an antibody used to fight breast cancer to curtail metastasis to the bone. (Credit: Illustration by the Xiao Research Group/Rice University)

Rice University graduate student Chenfei Yu, left, and postdoctoral researcher Zeru Tian analyze results of study that determined a moderate amount of a peptide-enhanced antibody effectively targets metastasis to bone from breast cancers. (Credit: Xiao Research Group/Rice University)

Located on a 300-acre forested campus in Houston, Rice University is consistently ranked among the nation’s top 20 universities by U.S. News & World Report. Rice has highly respected schools of Architecture, Business, Continuing Studies, Engineering, Humanities, Music, Natural Sciences and Social Sciences and is home to the Baker Institute for Public Policy. With 4,052 undergraduates and 3,484 graduate students, Rice’s undergraduate student-to-faculty ratio is just under 6-to-1. Its residential college system builds close-knit communities and lifelong friendships, just one reason why Rice is ranked No. 1 for lots of race/class interaction and No. 1 for quality of life by the Princeton Review. Rice is also rated as a best value among private universities by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.

You May Also Like