October 5, 2009
A new drug designed to "seek and destroy" common cancers such as breast, prostate, endometrial, pancreatic, ovarian, skin and testicular cancers is being tested at TGen Clinical Research Services (TCRS) at Scottsdale Healthcare.
The Phase 1 clinical trial will help determine if EP-100 is safe and effective for use among patients with solid cancer tumors, with fewer side effects than chemotherapy or radiation treatment.
TCRS is a partnership of the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) and Scottsdale Healthcare. The partnership allows molecular and genomic discoveries made by TGen and others around the world to reach the patient bedside in the Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center at Scottsdale Healthcare as quickly as possible through clinical trials with agents directed at specific targets in patients' tumors.
According to Ramesh K. Ramanathan, MD, principal investigator for the trial in Scottsdale, the drug is a membrane-disrupting peptide (tMDP) designed to "seek and destroy" cancer cells by targeting those with excessive luteinizing hormone releasing hormone (LHRH) receptors.
Excessive LHRH receptors are found in a wide range of cancers, including breast, prostate, endometrial, pancreatic, ovarian, skin and testicular cancers.
Mike Janicek, MD, a Gynecologist Oncologist who practices at the Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center at Scottsdale Healthcare said, "I am looking forward to participating in the study with EP100, especially for ovarian and uterine cancer patients. Often patients with advanced cancer will need new therapies and a targeted treatment like EP100 is the next frontier of research."
The study is designed to evaluate the safety of EP100 and will enroll as many as 36 adult patients with solid tumors whose tumor biopsies indicate that they have excessive LHRH receptors.
EP-100 will be administered intravenously for three out of four weeks. Once the maximum tolerated dose has been established, additional subjects with specific diagnoses of either breast, ovarian, endometrial, pancreatic or prostate cancer will be enrolled. EP-100 is produced by Esperance Pharmaceuticals of Baton Rouge, La., and was culled from a range of drugs tested at TGen Drug Development Services (TD2) in Scottsdale.
"It brings with it a killer, a toxin. It's a way of targeting a toxin to the cancer tumor cells,'' said Dr. Steve Gately, president and chief scientific advisor at TD2. "Our goal would be to find that set of patients who are highly responsive; who have the greatest benefit. We'd like to accelerate the government approval for that agent.''
The clinical trials could show that EP-100 is effective with certain types of cancer, Dr. Gately said. "Perhaps there is a genetic context under which certain patients may be more responsive. We want to find those patients.''
Dr. Hector Alila, president of Esperance, said EP-100 has the potential to offer an improved safety and effectiveness over existing therapies, such as radiation or chemotherapy. "Preclinical studies of EP-100 demonstrated this candidate's efficacy across multiple indications in oncology, including aggressive cancers known to be resistant to the current standards of care and, importantly, studies of EP-100's mechanism-ofaction support that it targets and selectively kills cancer cells without harming normal cells," Dr. Alila said.
Community oncologists and cancer researchers collaborate in Phase I clinical trials in the Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center at Scottsdale Healthcare in Scottsdale, Ariz. Credit:
Source: Scottsdale Healthcare
TV Link: http://www.azfamily.com/news/health/New-drug-designed-to-destroy-several-types-of-cancer-63903727.html
Baton Rouge Business Report
September 10, 2009
Esperance Pharmaceuticals has started Phase 1 clinical studies of a drug designed to seek and destroy cancer cells. The Baton Rouge- based biotech firm is testing EP-100 in patients with advanced solid tumors. Preclinical studies have shown the drug selectively kills cancer cells without hurting healthy tissue, says Hector Alila, Esperance president and founder. The trial targets patients with breast, ovarian, endometrial, pancreatic or prostate cancer; pre-clinical studies show the drug reduced established tumors in mice.
By Steve Clark
Baton Rouge Business Report
Monday, May 18, 2009
David Boethel has become pretty good at predicting the outcome of LSU’s football bowl games, though his methods are unusual.
At the LSU AgCenter’s annual conferences, Boethel, the center’s vice chancellor for research, always includes in his presentation a comparison of intellectual-property royalties generated per research dollar spent against the peer enterprises of whichever school the Tigers are playing in that postseason.
Lately, LSU has been whipping those schools in royalties, too.
“I’ve been able to predict the winner the last three years,” says Boethel, the director of the Louisiana Agricultural and Experiment Station. “We had Georgia Tech, Ohio State and Notre Dame, and we beat all of them in terms of these kind of statistics.”
In terms of bang for the buck, the LSU AgCenter outperforms several universities in U.S. News & World Report’s top tier.
“That’s not to say that you can do it every year,” Boethel says. “You have up years and down years, but we’ve been pretty consistent the last few years.”
If MIT fielded a team, LSU would have them beat as well. Their research budgets are nowhere close—$63 million in 2007 for the AgCenter versus $1.2 billion for MIT. But in terms of royalty income per dollar spent, LSU wins, with a 6.8% return on its investment compared to 5% for MIT.
The AgCenter doesn’t always get its due as an economic driver, despite its success generating royalties, patents and licenses.
Blame the “plows, sows and cows” stigma, Chancellor Bill Richardson says. But royalties are royalties. The AgCenter’s rice research, for instance, has generated tens of millions of dollars in additional research funding in fees agricultural companies pay the AgCenter for developing improved varieties.
Only about 25% of the AgCenter’s rice station budget comes from state funding. The rest comes from self-generated grants and contracts with those companies.
“Some of the technologies are kind of traditional ag technologies such as variety development—rice varieties and wheat varieties and cotton varieties,” Richardson says. “That’s the traditional thing that land-grant agriculture programs have been focused on, but they’ve been very instrumental in increasing economic development.”
Richardson says his campus, over the past few years, has generated between 85% and 90% of the royalty income coming into the entire LSU System. Of course, ag school research tends to focus more on applied science, though LSU has been particularly aggressive in recent years.
The AgCenter has had its own IP office since 1991, the same year it issued its first patent and many years before LSU’s main campus upgraded what was essentially a one-man operation to the more robust technology transfer/intellectual property program it operates today under Brooks Keel, LSU vice chancellor for research and economic development.
“Our research is probably much more applied than you might find on the [main] campus,” Boethel says. “We always tell our scientists we want you to do some discovery work, but we want that discovery work to have an end focus on a product, or at least some new information that can be adopted by our clientele or our stakeholders.”
About 40 of the AgCenter’s scientists—roughly 10% of the research faculty—hold either a patent or something called a plant variety protection—basically a patent for plants.
Richardson notes that ideas have shifted substantially in terms of IP and agriculture at LSU. In the old days, everything was funded by state dollars and so you gave your research away. It was the land-grant way. But things began to change beginning in the 1990s with tighter budgets.
“When I first came here in 1984, there was almost a negative attitude toward getting federal research dollars,” Richardson says. “The feeling was, ‘The taxpayers pay our salaries, we’re going to do what’s best for the taxpayers and we’re not going to go off to Washington chasing dollars.’ That was a pretty strong feeling at one time.
“I know some faculty members who really got chastised if they applied for money federally. That’s changed dramatically. That’s been a huge change in philosophy. Now we’re out aggressively marketing these technologies.”
Not all of them involve the plow, the sow or the cow. Boethel points to a partnership with Esperance Pharmaceuticals and the Pennington Biomedical Research Center on a project that began with AgCenter scientists looking for a non-surgical method of creating temporary sterility in show animals.
Adam Knapp, CEO of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, says that federal reporting on IP royalties, licenses and patents lumps LSU’s AgCenter in with Pennington and the main campus obscures the level of the AgCenter’s productivity. He cites Esperance and TransGenRx, both startups housed in the Louisiana Emerging Technology Center on LSU’s main campus, as successful spin-offs from AgCenter-generated research. LETC, as well as the Louisiana Fund One venture capital fund, have been integral to those companies’ success today, he says.
“The point is that they are already leading the state’s education institutions in terms of commercialization of research,” Knapp says. “I think it’s important for more people to be aware of what they’ve accomplished. I think what’s critical is to understand that what they have been good at, that commercialization of intellectual property, is the most direct way to create economic growth from research. In that sense, they are the models for the state.”
By Steve Clark
Baton Rouge Business Report
Monday, January 26, 2009
Hector Alila moved to Baton Rouge in September 2007 to become president of Esperance Pharmaceuticals, a startup company developing drugs to treat cancer. A Cornell University graduate and pharmaceutical industry veteran, his colleagues were skeptical over his decision to leave Pennsylvania, his home for many years, to move to the South.
He was attracted to the city by the firm’s promising technology and the chance to make money from it, but also the chance to “make a difference.”
“If you live outside of Louisiana, the national news about Louisiana is not that great,” Alila says. “I’ve actually been pleasantly surprised since then.”
Alila says he eventually discovered some of the less tangible reasons for living here—neighbors, for instance. In Philadelphia, he never got to know them, even after 10 years in the same place. Not so in Baton Rouge. Alila was dumbfounded when his College Town neighbors came by after Hurricane Gustav to make sure he was OK, and says it made him “feel part of the community.”
Baton Rouge worries a lot about how to attract smart, talented people—and keep the ones we’ve already got. But to Alila, Baton Rouge is a “hidden jewel” in many ways. It’s a much less expensive place to do high-tech business than the Northeast, he says.
LSU and the state’s other universities, meanwhile, are ready sources of skilled manpower. More than half of Esperance’s seven employees are LSU graduates.
That said, there are shortcomings. For people with school-age children [Alila’s are grown] taking a look at Baton Rouge, the state of public schools in East Baton Rouge Parish would be of concern—private school alternatives notwithstanding, Alila says.
“There’s still a lot of infrastructure to be dealt with in terms of human capital as well as financial capital” Alila says. “In the long term, it is really worth it. I wish that there were more than one Esperance here. I wish there were other opportunities for that.”
Cancer drug nears testing - (PDF version)
Local company on fast track to develop new treatment
By TED GRIGGS
Advocate business writer
Published: Apr 25, 2008 - Page: 1A - UPDATED: 12:05 a.m.
Baton Rouge-based Esperance Pharmaceuticals Inc. is within 15 to 18 months of testing to see if its targeted anticancer drug is safe for use in people.
Company officials made the announcement Thursday at a ceremony marking the opening of Esperance's headquarters and laboratories in the Louisiana Emerging Technology Center.
We believe this is a major technical advance over what is being developed out there," company President Hector W. Alila said. We are targeting specific molecules on the surface of cancer cells, and so our drug seeks out these cells and kills them."
Everyone who has seen a friend or relative go through cancer treatments says that there must be a better way, Alila said. Patients who go through chemotherapy frequently become nauseous, weak and lose their hair.
Esperance's drugs can destroy both the primary tumors and the cancer that spreads from them, he said.
The technology has the potential to develop more potent and safer drugs that target only cancer cells, leaving normal cells, and the patient, unharmed.
It's fitting that the company's name, Esperance, is French for hope, Alila said.
Esperance was founded on technology discovered and patented by scientists at the LSU Pennington Biomedical Research Center, the LSU Ag Center and LSU itself.
The company originally received backing from Louisiana Fund I LP of Baton Rouge.
Louisiana Fund I, Shreveport-based Themelios Venture Partners LP and Research Corporation Technologies Inc. of Tucson, Ariz., have provided $9 million in Series A financing for Esperance.
Esperance is using the money to move one of its lead compounds to early clinical testing. Alila said the drug could be in Phase I testing, to see if it can be tolerated by people, within 15 to 18 months.
The Phase I testing will likely start with ovarian cancer, Alila said. The federal Food and Drug Administration considers ovarian cancer an orphan" disease, meaning less than 200,000 people are diagnosed with the illness each year.
Because the potential market for an orphan drug is so small, the FDA offers incentives to developers, such as an accelerated review process, Alila said. Another key piece of Esperance's strategy involves developing, and patenting, a diagnostic system that will help identify the patients who will likely respond to the drug.
This personalized medicine method offers Esperance some major advantages, Alila said. By choosing patients more apt to respond to the drug, Esperance will need fewer patients to prove its product works.
The result is that the company increases its chances for a successful clinical trial while lowering costs, he said. The Phase I trial will probably involve around 50 patients. Once Esperance goes through the FDA review process, the company will be able to look at other potential applications, Alila said. So far, Esperance's research has shown its drug has the potential to effectively treat breast, endometrial and colon cancers, among others. Between now and its human trials, Esperance will be testing its treatment in animals, Alila said.
Alila said he appreciates the support the company has gotten locally, from Pennington, LSU and the Ag Center, and the help of technology developer William Hansel and his collaborators Fred Enright and Carola Leuschner.
In addition, Woman's Hospital is providing Esperance with access to screen tissue samples from patients, he said.
Ross Barrett, Themelios managing general partner, said Esperance's cancer treatment will have impacts far beyond Baton Rouge or Louisiana.
This represents an opportunity for Louisiana to be a global thought leader in cancer therapeutics," Barrett said.
Steven Grissom, deputy secretary of the Louisiana Department of Economic Development, said Esperance represents a clear signal that the state is taking the right steps in diversifying the economy.
Alila said the most important thing to come from Esperance, aside from the cancer treatment, may be to let the world know that Baton Rouge and Louisiana are good places to establish a biotech company.
The area has workers with the expertise needed, and much lower costs for lab and office space, he said. In Boston, running a company at Esperance's stage might cost $1 million or even $2 million a month.
A million dollars goes like that," Alila said, snapping his fingers. Every time you open the door, that's $40,000."
The costs in Baton Rouge are far less than half of that, he said.
Pet sterilization work led to cancer research - (PDF version)
By TED GRIGGS
Advocate business writer
Published: Apr 25, 2008 - Page: 8A
Esperance's cancer drugs, which supporters now believe might revolutionize treatment of the disease, began in the early 1990s as an effort to sterilize pets without surgery.
At the time, scientists William Hansel and Fred Enright hoped to develop a shot that could shut down a dog's reproductive system. The idea was to shut down cells in the pituitary gland that govern male and female reproductive organs.
The problem was the pituitary cells regenerated in a month or so.
So like many great ideas, the initial part of the invention was meant for one thing, but then it evolved into something greater," Esperance President Hector W. Alila said.
Enright is head of veterinary science at the LSU Agriculture Center. Hansel, an animal physiologist, worked jointly with the center and the LSU Pennington Biomedical Research Center.
They were soon joined by Carola Leuschner, then a biochemist at Pennington and now a part of the Esperance team.
The researchers realized their approach could be adapted for cancer treatment. Eventually they developed new molecules that attached to hormone receptors on cancer cells and disrupted the cell membranes.
On Thursday, Hansel jokingly described the research as skunkworks" all the way. Skunkworks is the work an organization tolerates but does not officially support, fund or even acknowledge it exists, Hansel said.
In fact, an organization doesn't want to admit it has anything to do with the work at all. How else can one explain the Agriculture Center and Pennington, which focuses on nutrition, justifying cancer research and allowing that work to be done by a cancer research team with no cancer research experience, he asked.
In reality, the administrators at LSU, the center and Pennington deserved a lot of credit for Esperance's success, Hansel said.
The Agriculture Center paid the fees for patenting the process, and Pennington provided office and lab space.
Hansel also credited Gordon Kean, who provided more than $1 million to fund the research, as the real hero in the Esperance story.
By Steve Clark
Baton Rouge Business Report
Thursday, April 24, 2008
Esperance Pharmaceuticals Inc., the state's first biotech company, which began as a startup in the Louisiana Emerging Technology Center on the LSU campus, today announced the opening of its corporate headquarters and labs in LETC. Esperance, which focuses on the discovery and development of anticancer agents, was founded on patented technology discovered by scientists at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, LSU AgCenter and LSU's flagship campus. Hector Alila, Esperance president and founder, says the company's platform technology is a huge advance with great potential for developing more potent and safer drugs that target cancer cells without harming healthy cells. Research so far has been promising. Esperance was initially set up as Louisiana Fund I LP, an early stage venture capital fund. Co-investors are Themelios Venture Partners LP of Shreveport and Research Corporation Technologies Inc. of Tucson, Ariz.
Baton Rouge Advocate Article
Tuesday, October 31, 2006A Baton Rouge start-up, Esperance Pharmaceuticals Inc., has secured $9 million in financing to begin clinical testing of its anti-cancer agents. The company is developing an anti-cancer 'fusion protein' that is toxic to cancer cells. Esperance was founded by Louisiana Fund 1 on technology discovered at LSU, the AgCenter and Pennington Biomedical Research Center. Louisiana Fund 1, Themelios Venture Partners of Shreveport and Research Corporation Technologies Inc. of Tucson, Ariz., are the lead investors.