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Ironwood Inks $40M Deal with Laboratorios Almirall, CombinatoRx and Novartis Seek Combo Cancer Drugs, NABsys Nabs $4M, & More Boston-Area Life Sciences Deals

Xconomy Boston — 

This past week produced a cornucopia of life sciences news, including new partnerships, personnel and real estate changes, venture deals, and some intriguing science.

—A team led by UMass Medical School researcher Michael Czech, co-founder of Worcester, MA-based RXi Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: RXII), reported in the journal Nature that it has come up with an oral pill form of an RNA-interference based drug, which passed an early test in mice. RXi has an exclusive license to the technology, which could conceivably help solve one of the biggest challenges in RNAi—getting the gene-silencing molecules where they need to go in the body.

—Luke pulled together some of the most interesting lessons that emerged in last week’s Xconomy Forum: Tomorrow’s Biotech—Innovators and Innovations. Definitely worth a read if you missed the event (or if you were there an want to reminisce).

—Cambridge, MA-based Acceleron Pharma unveiled plans to expand its workforce from 114 to 160 by the end of 2009, and to lease another 19,700 square feet of lab and office space in Cambridge, bringing its total footprint in the city to 95,000 square feet.

Ironwood Pharmaceuticals of Cambridge, MA, inked a deal giving European development and commercial rights to Barcelona, Spain-based Laboratorios Almirall for linaclotide, Ironwood’s experimental drug for irritable bowel syndrome with constipation. The Cambridge firm will collect $40 million in up-front payments, another $15 million in payments for reaching near-term milestones, and $40 million in payments before the drug is commercialized—as well as a percentage royalty on sales if linaclotide can become a marketed product.

—Waltham, MA-based Inverness Medical Innovations (NYSE:IMA), a provider of medical diagnostics and health management services, announced a planned $200 public offering of senior subordinated notes due in 2016.

—This year’s Ernst & Young annual biotech survey, Beyond Borders, showed that the combined market value of New England’s public biotech companies on the last trading day of 2008 was $49.7 billion—down 24 percent from a year earlier. Revenues, on the other hand, were up 15 percent, to $13 billion, and the size of companies’ coffers was up 5 percent, to a combined total of $5.1 billion.

—Providence, RI-based NABsys raised $4 million in a Series A round of financing intended to help it develop a way to use electronics for faster, cheaper DNA sequencing. Providence venture firm Point Judith Capital led the round, which was joined by return investors such as Slater Technology Fund, a venture group funded by the State of Rhode Island.

—Cambridge, MA-based CombinatoRx (NASDAQ:CRXX) forged a new alliance with Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis to develop combination treatments for cancer. CombinatoRx—whose lead drug failed late last year in clinical trials, sending the company reeling—will receive an upfront payment of $4 million and research funding for at least two years. The Cambridge firm could also earn up to $58 million for reaching clinical, regulatory, and commercial goals for each drug to come out of the partnership.

—Kenneth Bate, the former CEO of Lexington, MA-based drug developer NitroMed, will take the helm of Cambridge, MA-based Archemix, replacing Duncan Higgons. A proposed merger between NitroMed and Archemix fell through early this year.