A second Carl Icahn protégé jumps in on SPAC spree, as Alex Denner guns for $175M
A second Carl Icahn protégé is jumping into the biotech SPAC rush, this time one with a lot more experience — and a lot more of a reputation — in drug development.
Alex Denner, the managing partner at Sarissa Capital and architect of activist attacks at a handful of major biotechs over the last decade, has filed to raise $175 million of a specialty acquisition company that would focus on “healthcare and biopharma,” with cell and gene therapy garnering particular emphasis in the S-1. The SPAC will be known as Sarissa Capital Acquisition.
That makes Denner the second former Icahn disciple to try and get in on what has proven to a very lucrative game this summer. Keith Meister, the young executive widely seen as Icahn’s right-hand man before he left Icahn Enterprises a decade ago, and his firm Corvex Management helped launch a $385 million life sciences SPAC in August, one of the largest ever. Meister, though, had little experience in biopharma before and teamed up with Casdin Capital for the shell they called CM Life Sciences.
Denner, by contrast, helped craft Icahn’s biopharma strategy as a young investor at his firm, most notably helping wrest Biogen in a new direction and bring in George Scangos to head the ailing giant. Since then, he’s led activist attacks at Ironwood, Aegerion and Ariad. After significant price hikes to their FDA-approved drug and a souped up R&D line, the latter was bought out by Takeda for $5.2 billion, netting Sarissa Capital $260 million.
Denner’s aggressive style has not always endeared him across to folks in the industry — Ironwood management successfully pleaded with its directors not to give him a board seat — but he’s betting that retail investors will see a profitable record. The filing highlights one recent move: the 2018 shakeup of the Medicines Company. At the time, the company was worth $2 billion and already working to sell off other products and focus all its efforts on inclisiran, their RNAi cholesterol drug. Denner takes credit, though, for guiding inclisiran through approval in “record” time and orchestrating a $9.7 billion Novartis buyout that the Big Pharma admitted in SEC documents was an overpay by their calculations.
Denner will now have 2 years to pick a biotech to merge with. Unlike his most famous moves to date, that will mean picking a private as opposed to public company and helping steer it from there.