CombinatoRx Cuts Deal for Cancer Drug Discovery with Novartis

Xconomy Boston — 

CombinatoRx, the Cambridge, MA-based firm focused on the discovery and development of combination drugs, says it has inked a new alliance with Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis to use its technology to find combo treatments for cancer. The deal provides CombinatoRx (NASDAQ:CRXX) with an upfront payment of $4 million and a bit of good news after the major setback it suffered late last year when its lead combination drug for arthritis failed to pass muster in a mid-stage clinical trial.

On top of the upfront payment, Novartis will fund research related to the alliance at CombinatoRx for two years, with an option for Novartis to extend the two-year agreement for three more one-year terms. The pact also provides the potential for CombinatoRx to earn up to $58 million in payments for reaching clinical, regulatory, and commercial goals for each combination cancer drug.

The plan is for CombinatoRx to use its technology to screen compounds from its own library and compounds from Novartis to identify combinations that could be effective cancer treatments. Prior to this deal CombinatoRx’ technology—which involves computer screening known drugs for combinations that form novel treatment candidates—had already identified a combo of compounds that showed effectiveness in treating in B-cell tumors in lab animals, according to the company.

The deal with Novartis appears to be a bit of a rebound for CombinatoRx, which announced job cuts effecting on the order of two-thirds of its staff in November, after the firm learned that its combination treatment Synavive did not significantly reduce pain for patients with osteoarthritis of the knee in a Phase II clinical trial. But as Xconomy reported in its latest Boston Biotech Survival Index, CombinatoRx wrapped up 2008 with $51 million in cash in the bank, potentially enough to sustain its downsized operations into 2012. The firm also has other shots on goal with its combo treatments for Type 2 diabetes and skin conditions in mid-stage clinical development.

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