Deals

Ramaswamy notches his 5th biotech startup in 3 years after inking a deal with Merck for PhIII urology drug

Vivek Ramaswamy has launched another new biotech company.

Ramaswamy’s umbrella group Roivant Sciences notched its 5th “-vant” startup — Urovant Sciences — after bagging a Phase III-ready urology drug from Merck.

Talking from the tarmac as he was preparing to jet his way to Europe, the 30-something entrepreneur tells me you can now expect the business development team at Basel-based Roivant to go after more deals to beef up the pipeline — a strategy that has marked his first four company launches over just the last three years.

Vivek Ramaswamy

Merck has taken this new lead drug — an oral β3-adrenergic agonist bladder relaxer — all the way through a successful Phase IIb study as MK-4618. An ex-US Phase III study has been completed with a thousand patients and now the newly launched fledgling will take their drug straight into a registration study later this year, says the Roivant CEO.

Merck has “clearly invested a lot in the program through several large studies that have been done to date,” says Ramaswamy. But urology is not a core focus at Merck, while Roivant’s BD team has been scouring the planet for late-stage assets like this that they can hustle into pivotal trials.

That’s how he started Axovant $AXON in 2014, gaining an Alzheimer’s drug from GlaxoSmithKline for only $5 million upfront with milestones and a royalty share from any revenue that may result. Ramaswamy recently recruited David Hung in as CEO of Axovant as they look to reap pivotal data after 15 straight years of setbacks in the field, including failures for several other symptomatic drugs that use the same mechanism.

But while anyone else may have stayed fixed on that original lead, the ex-hedge fund manager has gone on to become one of the best-financed deal makers in the industry. Axovant and Myovant, a women’s health player, both had stellar IPOs. Dermavant (dermatology) and Enzyvant (rare diseases) followed, but so far have remained private. And more biotechs are on the way as each of his companies work to build pipelines and add new therapies to the clinic.

“Once you have a beachhead product in an area you continue to build out that pipeline,” says Ramaswamy, who plans to take these companies all the way into commercialization work.

Don’t look for any numbers in the release. Whatever they are, it’s not material to the pharma giant’s numbers and Merck is well known for being loathe to divulge any specifics around deals or any kind.

The next step at Urovant, says Ramaswamy, is to set up discussions with the FDA on the Phase III program. And he has several interesting candidates for CEO as he gets ready to build the new team.

Says Ramaswamy: “Stay tuned.”


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RAPS Regulatory Convergence 2017