Washington Editor

VistaGen Therapeutics Inc. signed a multiyear research partnership with a Japanese company to develop stem cell-based discovery tools.

The agreement is with Sanwa Kagaku Kenkyusho Co. Ltd., of Nagoya, Japan, and focuses on developing tools for internal research programs and for commercialization by third parties.

Under the terms, VistaGen, of Burlingame, Calif., will receive up-front technology license fees, an equity investment and several years of funded research.

While no one at VistaGen could be reached for comment, Ralph Snodgrass, the company's CEO, released a prepared statement on the deal, saying, "Our new partnership with SKK is another step forward in our efforts to harness the in vitro power of stem cells for better, cheaper and faster drug discovery and development than currently available methods. We look forward to working closely with SKK to develop additional innovative technologies that will increase the power of our stem cell biology platform for revenue-generating R&D partnerships, and development of our internal product pipeline for the treatment of central nervous system disorders and cancer."

Meanwhile, Satoshi Terao, SKK's vice president for research and development, released a prepared statement saying, "We believe that VistaGen's stem cell-based discovery platform will be an important component in SKK's development of industry-leading capabilities in the discovery, validation and ultimately commercialization of novel therapeutic products serving the unmet needs of today's global pharmaceutical marketplace. We look forward to working with our new partner in this important multiyear collaboration."

VistaGen, a privately held company, uses its stem cell technologies to "harness the power of pluripotent embryonic stem cells" for its own research as well as that of its collaborators. The company has deals with Pfizer Inc., of New York; GlaxoSmithKline plc, of London; and Novartis AG, of Basel, Switzerland. And on its own, VistaGen has a preclinical small molecule for the treatment of epilepsy and other CNS-related diseases.

VistaGen has received funding through the National Institutes of Health, including a two-year, $1.7 million Phase II Small Business Innovation Research grant for development of clinically predictive assays and tools for development of new drugs designed to be safer and less toxic. Also from the NIH, the company has received a $199,566 Phase I Small Business Innovation Research grant to develop biomathematical systems to analyze data from stem cell-based evaluation of known anticancer drugs, and a $219,000 award for additional development of an in vitro stem cell assay for anticancer drug toxicology assessment.