From top analyst to CFO: Cowen’s Eric Schmidt leaps into the top ranks of biotech’s latest overnight sensation
Arie Belldegrun has long held VIP credentials at Cowen and Co. The investment group helped take Belldegrun’s company Kite public. And Eric Schmidt, their top biotech analyst, was an unabashed sell-side cheerleader virtually every step of the risky way, as Kite steered their way through a pivotal and historic CAR-T program — standing toe-to-toe with Novartis as Juno stumbled badly.
When Gilead came along with a $12 billion buyout offer at $180 a share, Cowen helped advise the Kite chief.
Now, Belldegrun — who made a fortune on the Kite sale — has flipped from personalized CAR-T into the fast lane for off-the-shelf allogeneic work, taking over Pfizer’s partnership with Cellectis while aiming to disrupt a field he helped create. And this time, Schmidt is going along for the ride as an insider on the top team of the newly formed biotech Allogene. Today, Schmidt acknowledged in tandem statements from Cowen and Allogene a switch that has been much buzzed about, making the leap to CFO at Allogene.
The big question now is, when’s the IPO?
Of course, Schmidt didn’t get this job by jumping way out ahead of the pack, making reckless promises. So it’s no surprise that he turned that question aside with a brief pleasantry about finding the best path forward, and so on. Today is his first day on the job, and there are no timelines or specific plans in place on financing the company for the long run.
Besides, they got started with a $300 million raise, and Belldegrun has access to a lot more than that.
Belldegrun and his longtime colleague David Chang reached out to him about the job, Schmidt says.
“I wasn’t surprised,” he tells me. “Many of us get those calls; many move on to industry.” But he goes on that this offer “was the first I considered to any serious degree.”
Belldegrun and Chang are no slouches at putting together high performance teams. Their company progress reports at Kite drew rave reviews from those who got a chance to see them. Schmidt was no exception.
“I think they were the best mid-cap management team I ever interacted with,” says Schmidt. Now the new company is out to “replicate that team chemistry and that team professionalism. Of course we were born on second base, with the Pfizer group that came over — 40 or so.”
As for internal accounting, he frankly says he has to master that part of the work.
“I do think I like new challenges,” says Schmidt, who adds that he welcomes a new challenge that will “use a different side of my brain; don’t know if I’ll be good.”
Image: Eric Schmidt. ALLOGENE