Houston Biotech Esperance Eyes $40M Raise to Fund Cancer Drug Push

Xconomy Texas — 

Houston — Brett Giroir, the former head of Texas A&M University’s Health Science Center, has a new biotech venture in Houston, and has brought along innovation from his home state of Louisiana.

Giroir has joined the board of Esperance Pharmaceuticals, a biotech developing drugs for a variety of cancers. Esperance was founded ten years ago in Baton Rouge, LA, based on research done at Louisiana State University, but relocated to Houston earlier this month.

Esperance is developing a group of drugs meant to home in on cancer cells in a targeted fashion and spare healthy ones. These drugs bind to a receptor on the surface of cancer cells, and use a peptide, or small protein fragment, to disrupt the membranes of these cells and kill them. Its most advanced prospect, for instance, called EP 100, binds to receptors for luteinizing hormone releasing hormone, or LHRH. These LHRH receptors are overexpressed in patients with a number of different cancers. EP 100 is in a mid-stage trial in patients with ovarian cancer.

Now that Esperance has made the move to Houston, Hector Alila, Esperance’s CEO, says he expects that the firm will look to raise as much as $40 million in Series C round this summer as it gears up for more trials of EP 100. The company had previously raised a $28 million Series B round in 2011 from investors such as BVM Capital in Bossier City, LA; Louisiana Fund 1 in Baton Rouge; Advantage Capital in New Orleans, LA, and Sanofi-Gynzyme BioVentures, the venture arm of pharma giant Sanofi.

Last year, Esperance completed a phase 2a clinical trial testing EP 100 in 50 ovarian cancer patients who hadn’t responded to standard treatment with chemotherapy. Alila says that the drug showed evidence of potentially reversing the resistance their tumors had developed to chemotherapy. Data from the study was presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s annual meeting last June.

Esperance aims to move the drug into further testing, and it got some help through an August deal with the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, which will help it identify biomarkers that could be used to select patients that might best respond to the drug. That work will help direct two separate phase 2b clinical trials in ovarian and breast cancer, which should begin later this year and in 2017, respectively.

“They see everything,” Giroir says of MD Anderson’s scientists. “One-third of new cancer medicines in the world have been through studies led at MD Anderson. Their work can attest to the uniqueness of this approach.”