Vistagen/PherinThe biopharma Vistagen (Nasdaq:VTGN) has agreed to acquire privately-held Pherin Pharmaceuticals for roughly 12.4 million shares of Vistagen stock. It will sweeten the deal with “a nominal amount of cash,” the company said in a press release.

The deal is subject to customary closing conditions.

In October 2018, South San Francisco, California–based Vistagen announced that it had licensed global rights to develop PH10, a novel, intranasally administered neuroactive steroid known as a pherine. At that point, PH10 had demonstrated quick-acting antidepressant effects in patients with major depressive disorder (MDD) in a Phase 2a study.

Pherin Pharmaceuticals is also based in South San Francisco. The company’s website lists a pipeline consisting of six drug candidates.

Vistagen had also licensed worldwide rights from Pherin for PH94B, another novel pherine that would be the subject of a Phase 3 study for social anxiety disorder (SAD). In addition, the company is also testing the drug candidate for adjustment disorder with anxiety (AjDA).

The acquisition would do away with future royalty and milestone payments related to PH10 and PH94B.

Vistagen paid $2.25 million in common stock for PH10 and PH94B.

The acquisition would also add three early-stage pherines to its pipeline PH15 for cognition improvement, PH80 for migraine and hot flashes and PH284 for appetite-related disorders. Those three drug candidates remain at the pre-IND stage.

In November, Vistagen announced that it had received a “study may proceed” letter from FDA for its investigational new drug application for PH10 to treat MDD. The company plans to conduct a Phase 1 study involving a new formulation of PH10 in the first quarter of 2023 to confirm its safety profile based on three prior clinical studies. After that, the company plans on conducting a Phase 2B study of PH10 for MDD.

The originator of PH10, Pherin, was founded in 1991.

The inspiration for the company came when its cofounder David Berliner researched skin metabolites in the laboratory at the University of Utah in the 1960s. Berliner noticed that some volatile skin metabolites appeared to result in mood changes in his laboratory colleagues.

Vistagen was founded in 1998 and initially focused on stem cell research.

Biogen and Sage Therapeutics are also developing a neuroactive steroid known as zuranolone for depression. Zuranolone is, however, oral rather than nasal-based.