A Baton Rouge cancer treatment startup has drawn the attention of MD Anderson Cancer Center and a deal to accelerate development of the company’s lead anti-cancer drug.

Under the agreement with Esperance Pharmaceuticals Inc., Houston-based MD Anderson will conduct additional studies to help prepare for a Phase III trial of EP-100 in ovarian cancer. EP-100 is Esperance’s lead anti-cancer candidate. The drug targets and destroys cancer cells that produce too much of a certain hormone. Those include breast, prostate, pancreatic, ovarian and testicular cancers.

The developmental drug recently completed a Phase II trial, demonstrating its effectiveness among patients with incurable cancer.

In Phase III, the drug is given to large groups of people to confirm its effectiveness, monitor side effects and compare it with commonly used treatments.

MD Anderson also will help identify potential biomarkers to better identify the patients most likely to respond to the drug. The cancer treatment center also will help conduct studies needed to initiate clinical trials of EP-100 in breast cancer and assess the anti-cancer potential of some of Esperance’s other drug candidates.

“The successful completion of our Phase II trial and strategic alliance with MD Anderson, one of the leading cancer centers in the world, are major milestones for Esperance,” said Hector Alila, Esperance’s chief executive officer.

Studies suggest that EP-100 could become a valuable targeted therapy for ovarian and breast cancer, Alila said. MD Anderson brings immense value as a partner who can ensure high-quality studies that will produce the best design for Esperance’s Phase III trials.

Those trials could potentially lead to accelerated review and approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“It is a privilege to work with MD Anderson, and we view the ambitious nature of the collaborative program as a testament to the therapeutic promise of EP-100,” Alila said. “We look forward to a productive relationship that has the potential to achieve important gains in the battle against cancer.”

The American Cancer Society estimates that in Louisiana, 24,100 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in 2015, and 9,040 Louisiana residents will die of the disease. Of the new cases, an estimated 2,900 will be women with breast cancer.

Nationwide, an estimated 231,840 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year, according to the American Cancer Society. An estimated 40,290 Louisiana women will die of breast cancer.

Follow Ted Griggs on Twitter, @tedgriggsbr.