Malvern-based Virpax Pharmaceuticals says it has licensed MedPharm Ltd. "to develop non-opioid pain management products delivered" through Virpax's "'Patch-in-a-Can' MedSpray" system.

Virpax has acquired the rights to several skin-based non-opioid painkiller drug-delivery systems and is developing drugs including DSF100 (NSAID spray film 1.3 percent), which the company says should allow for "long-term dosing" through the skin or mucous membranes from a spray can, and an anesthetic system that can be delivered through a liposomal gel.

The deal with MedPharm, which is based in Surrey, England, and Durham, N.C.,  follows the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's May 18 agreement to hold a preliminary meeting to review the proposal, Virpax said in a statement.

"The rising importance of alternatives to opioid medications for pain management has spurred us to explore the development of topical treatments that improve on existing gel and patch products, for which adhesion and accessibility can be a challenge," said Anthony Mack, CEO of Virpax.

Mack, who holds an MBA from St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia, is a former salesman for Purdue Pharmaceuticals and Endo Pharmaceuticals, two of the companies now under investigation in connection with the rise in opioid addiction and deaths since the 1990s. Mack says U.S. doctors and specialists who had not had extensive training in painkillers were encouraged to prescribe opioids widely in the 1990s and 2000s, making the drugs inadvertently available to many addicts, including thousands who overdosed. He says there is a growing demand for nonopioid painkillers and for drug-delivery systems that won't inadvertently expose caregivers and visitors to dangerous doses.

Mack developed previous companies, including ProSolus, another skin-delivery drug-system developer, which he sold to Mission Pharmaceutical in 2015, and Scilex, a lidocaine-patch development company, which he sold to San Diego-based Sorrento Therapeutics in 2016. Sorrento agreed to pay up to $48 million for a controlling share. Mack remained with the company until its ZTlido system was approved by the FDA earlier this year.

Virpax has acquired rights to both spray-foam and liposomal-gel technologies to develop safer alternatives to skin patches, which Mack says can inadvertently transfer drugs to visitors and caregivers. He said the company has been supported by friends-and-family investors, and expects to begin raising investment capital when its products are closer to market.