People, Startups, Venture

SoftBank bets $1.1B on Roivant CEO Vivek Ramaswamy’s brash new biotech strategy

With pivotal data looming on his first big biotech play, Vivek Ramaswamy just landed a whopping $1.1 billion investment to back the explosive growth of Roivant Sciences. And he has a new fledgling ‘vant’ to add to the portfolio today — his 6th — as Roivant muscles up on data analysis tech.

SoftBank Vision Fund — a massive $100 billion private equity fund from Japan’s SoftBank with huge contributions from the Saudis and a slate of tech companies like Apple and Sharp — is contributing the cash, which includes funds from some of Roivant’s existing investors.

This is the first big biotech investment highlighted by the SoftBank Vision Fund, run by Japanese billionaire Masayoshi Son. The fund has been making a series of $1 billion plays like this, including a reported $1 billion wager on the sports e-commerce company Fanatics Inc.

“I like bringing in a diverse group of investors into Roivant,” Ramaswamy tells me, not at all averse to the fact that SoftBank’s investments have been heading into brash companies looking to reshape the industries they are in.

This new $1.1 billion investment brings Ramaswamy’s total raise to $2.5 billion-plus in three years, which includes the funds raised from two big IPOs for Axovant $AXON and Myovant $MYOV. By any measure, that’s an extraordinary sum for a group that has yet to see pivotal data on any of its drugs.

Ramaswamy tells me that he plans to use the cash to ramp up a whole new group of companies, not all of which will be pure biotech plays, like his first five startups. He also wants to go deeper into new technologies that can improve a biotech’s efficiency.

It’s no coincidence that this big new investment is coming at a time when a full slate of biopharma companies are reorganizing their R&D groups. What has been a constant over the past decade, as Big Pharma tried to create efficient R&D groups, has become a tidal wave of restructurings. New CEOs at Eli Lilly, GSK, Alexion, Biogen and others are all in the process of kicking loose early- and late-stage assets as they try to create some excitement around their pipelines. That in turn will create new opportunities for Ramswamy and the biotech entrepreneurs backed by VCs who like to grab the most promising assets and build companies around them.

It’s a new business model, and its day has fully arrived. Ramaswamy will not be hunting for money to play a global role on this stage.

Number six on Ramaswamy’s startup list, Datavant, will set out to collect data from clinical trials, to help his decentralized group of biotechs identify new drugs and develop them more efficiently. In many ways, it is a direct extension of the work Roivant has been doing to find new clinical assets for his startups.

The 32-year-old exec has created a company model in which a growing lineup of biotech companies operate under one umbrella, tapping the mother ship for core services like IT. And while most pharmas like to focus on 2 or 3 or 4 diseases, Ramaswamy wants to go in multiple directions, moving faster and more efficiently than the industry has ever managed to achieve.

“We’re open to any disease area we can grow into,” says Ramaswamy, who turns 32 today.

The engaging Ramaswamy has been pursuing an increasingly popular strategy in biotech, finding loose, late-stage assets in pharma pipelines that have often either been abandoned or sidelined or in need of a partner to share the risk on. He did that with a late-stage Alzheimer’s drug from GlaxoSmithKline, bagged it for only $5 million up front and built Axovant around it. Pivotal data on the drug is now due in the fall.

The former hedge fund manager also has been recruiting top talent for his companies, underscored by the recent arrival of David Hung, post the $14 billion Medivation buyout, and ex-Celgene exec Jackie Fouse, who was reportedly offered the Teva job and turned it down, preferring to run the startup Dermavant.


Image: Getty


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