Start-up gets funding for anti-cancer drug research


moneyEsperance Pharmaceuticals Inc., of Baton Rouge, whose nanoparticles target and kill some of the most common types of cancer cells, has secured $9 million in financing from three venture capital firms.

The money will allow Esperance to begin testing its anticancer agent to make sure it is safe and does not have toxic side effects, said Ross P. Barrett, managing partner of Themelios Venture Partners.

Themelios, Louisiana Fund I of Baton Rouge and Research Corporation Technologies Inc. of Tucson, Ariz., put up the $9 million.

This first phase of development will last from nine to 36 months and will involve animal testing and eventually people, Barrett said.

Esperance hopes to eventually commercialize the technology discovered by researchers at LSU, the LSU Agricultural Center and the Pennington Biomedical Research Center.

Barrett said winning the federal Food and Drug Administration’s approval for the anticancer agent will be a lengthy and expensive process involving many millions of dollars.

Esperance’s “anticancer fusion protein” attaches to hormone receptors on cancer cells and destroys them. The proteins target specific cancer cell receptors.

Early tests have shown the anticancer agents are effective with breast, prostate, ovarian and testicular cancer.

Each year, billions of dollars are spent treating breast and prostate cancer, two of the more common forms of cancer.

Breast cancer will strike around 213,000 women in the United States this year, and kill nearly 41,000, according to the American Cancer Society. There will be 234,460 new cases of prostate cancer this year, and more than 27,000 men will die from it.

“This technology, if successful, holds the potential of one day relieving the suffering of millions of cancer victims,” LSU System President William L. Jenkins said in a news release.

“The promise of anticancer treatments based on this research is both dazzling and exciting for our scientists and the entire LSU community.”

Barrett said he could not discuss the details of the funding arrangement, but each venture capital firm was given a seat on Esperance’s board of directors.

Louisiana Fund I specializes in state firms developing commercially promising technologies.

Themelios invests in life sciences technologies originated at Pennington or in companies that do clinical trials or research at Pennington.

Research Corporation Technologies also provides early-stage funding for biomedical companies and technologies.

The company has assets of more than $300 million and its portfolio includes companies in the United States, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom.

“I think it speaks volumes the fact that an out-of-state venture capital firm is partnering with us to commercialize this technology,” Barrett said.

Chad W. Souvignier, a director of Research Corporation Technologies, said Joe Lovett of Louisiana Fund I brought the technology to RCT’s attention.

The combination of some incredible cancer data demonstrating the anticancer agents’ effectiveness and the top-notch researchers behind the technology made Esperance a good investment, Souvignier said.

Souvignier said taking a medicine from concept to the market can take eight to 10 years and cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

The venture funds are hoping to take Esperance’s product to the “proof-of-concept” stage, showing the treatment can work in cancer patients, Souvignier said. This will probably take around four years, after which other investors, such as major drug makers would become involved.