Ironwood, Flush With Cash, Anticipates Big Year with Constipation Drug

11/21/08Follow @xconomy

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The Novartis drug worked to regulate serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain and the gut. Ironwood’s is an engineered protein fragment or peptide, designed in such a way that it is an oral pill that can pull off a tricky balancing act. It has been made to withstand the harsh acids of the stomach, navigate its way into the gut, and act exclusively in that environment, without being absorbed throughout the body, where it can cause side effects, Hecht says. The drug is thought to act by stimulating secretions of fluids into the intestines, which softens stool, and helps people have easier bowel movements, Hecht says.

If this drug succeeds in the final phase of clinical trials, Ironwood won’t just sit back and collect royalties from its partner. It plans to build a U.S.-based sales force and split the profits 50/50 with Forest Laboratories. This is pretty heady stuff for a company that doesn’t even have the high profile that comes with a listing on the NASDAQ. Hecht didn’t reveal timelines for when the trials should produce an answer, but Ironwood is clearly going to find out if it has a big drug on its hands sooner than most biotechs in Massachusetts, or anywhere else.

When we talked a couple weeks ago, Hecht seemed almost like he was unwilling to tell investors what they want to hear, even when he could. It probably shouldn’t be surprising for a guy whose company was re-named Ironwood in April. The name was inspired by a type of tree that thrives in the harshest desert climates, with some living as long as 1,500 years. That’s not exactly the time horizon of most investors.

“We’re in this for the long haul,” Hecht says.

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