Ironwood Files to Go Public, Seeks to Raise as Much as $172.5M

11/20/09Follow @xconomy

Ironwood Pharmaceuticals is gearing up for the possibility of an IPO. The Cambridge, MA-based developer of a new treatment for bowel disorders like for irritable bowel syndrome and chronic constipation said it may raise as much as $172.5 million from investors through the deal, according to a prospectus filed late today.

The proposed offering would be underwritten by JP Morgan Securities, Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse, Bank of America/Merrill Lynch, and Wedbush PacGrow Life Sciences. The prospectus doesn’t list how many shares it hopes to sell, or what the price range will be. Its proposed ticker is (NASDAQ: IRWD).

The proposed IPO filing doesn’t come as a surprise—we raised this question to the company last month when it added Genentech’s former chief financial officer, David Ebersman, to its board of directors. Ironwood has certainly put itself in a position to go public. Earlier this month, it passed the first two of four pivotal clinical trials, demonstrating that its drug is an effective new treatment for chronic constipation. The company has racked up a deficit of $290 million since its founding in 1998, yet it had $98.9 million left in the bank at the end of September according to today’s filing, so it’s not in urgent need of cash. Its lead drug candidate, linaclotide, treats chronic constipation that affects an estimated 26 million Americans, there are few available therapies for it, and the Ironwood drug has a way of working that’s unlike anything on the market. The U.S. healthcare system spends an estimated $25 billion on treating irritable bowel syndrome.

“We believe that linaclotide could present patients and healthcare practitioners with a unique therapy for a major medical need not yet met by existing therapies,” the company wrote in its prospectus.

Ironwood has no products currently on the market, but it has secured partnerships with three organizations to help commercialize linaclotide around the world. They are Forest Laboratories in the U.S., Laboratorios Almirall in Europe, and Astellas Pharma in certain Asian countries. The company has 167 employees.

Who stands to make the most money if Ironwood can complete an IPO? Ridgeback Capital Investments has the biggest stake in the company at 13.4 percent prior to the offering, followed by Venrock Associates with 11.3 percent, Polaris Venture Partners at 8.1 percent, and Morgan Stanley with 6.9 percent. Ironwood’s founding CEO, 46-year-old Peter Hecht, has a 5.5 percent stake, while Fidelity Biosciences has a 4.8 percent holding.

Ironwood still has a way to go before it can start generating cash flow from its first product. Results are expected from the additional two clinical trials of linaclotide in the second half of 2010, and the company will need time after that to submit its application to U.S. and European regulators and wait for them to complete their reviews.

If Ironwood can pull off this IPO, plenty of other biotech companies will to it as a bellwether to rekindle investors’ appetites for speculative biotech companies developing new products. Last month, Seattle-based Omeros (NASDAQ: OMER) completed the first IPO of a traditional U.S. biotech in the development stage since February 2008. While the company raised $62 million, it was a flop for investors. Omeros stock is down 25 percent from its IPO price of $10.

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