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

Hal Barron, GSK via YouTube

What does $29B buy you in Big Phar­ma? In Glax­o­SmithK­line’s case, a whole lot of un­com­fort­able ques­tions about the pipeline

Talk about your bad timing.

A little over a week ago, GSK R&D chief Hal Barron marked his third anniversary at the research helm by taking a turn at the virtual podium during JP Morgan to make the case that he and his team had built a valuable late-stage pipeline capable of churning out more than 10 blockbusters in the next 5 years.

And then, just days later, one of the cancer drugs he bet big on as a top prospect — bintrafusp, partnered with Merck KGaA — failed its first pivotal test in non-small cell lung cancer.

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5AM Ven­tures: Fu­el­ing the Next Gen­er­a­tion of In­no­va­tors

By RBC Capital Markets
With Andy Schwab, Co-Founder and Managing Partner at 5AM Ventures

Key Points

Prescription Digital Therapeutics, cell therapy technologies, and in silico medicines will be a vital part of future treatment modalities.
Unlocking the potential of the microbiome could be the missing link to better disease diagnosis.
Growing links between academia, industry, and venture capital are spinning out more innovative biotech companies.
Biotech is now seen by investors as a growth space as well as a safe haven, fuelling the recent IPO boom.

Janet Woodcock (AP Images)

End­points poll: Janet Wood­cock takes the (in­ter­im) helm at the FDA. And a large ma­jor­i­ty of our read­ers want her to stay there

It’s official: Janet Woodcock is now the acting chief of the FDA.

And — according to an Endpoints poll — most industry readers would like her to stay there, although a significant minority is strongly opposed.

To recap: Joe Biden is reportedly choosing between Woodcock and former deputy FDA commissioner Joshua Sharfstein as his nominee for the permanent position. Given their respective track records, the decision is set to determine the agency’s lodestar for years to come.

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What’s next for End­points — and how to sup­port our in­de­pen­dent bio­phar­ma news mis­sion

The firehose of biopharma news is gushing these days.

That’s why broader and deeper is the theme for 2021 at Endpoints. You can expect new coverage outside our core R&D focus, with deeper reporting in some key areas. When John Carroll and I launched Endpoints nearly five years ago, we were wading in waist-high waters. Now we’re a team of 25 full-time staffers (and growing) with plans to cover the flood of biopharma news, Endpoints-style.

Charlie Fuchs, Roche and Genentech global head of product development for oncology and hematology (Yale Cancer Center)

Yale can­cer spe­cial­ist Char­lie Fuchs tapped as new glob­al de­vel­op­ment chief for Roche/Genen­tech

Roche and their big sub Genentech have just recruited a top cancer specialist at Yale to head up global product development in oncology and hematology.

I just got word that the pharma giant, which leads one of the most active cancer research operations in the world, recruited Charlie Fuchs, director of the Yale Cancer Center and physician-in-chief of Smilow Cancer Hospital. He’ll join the global operation March 1 and will be based in South San Francisco, where Genentech is based.

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Deval Patrick (Mary Altaffer/AP Images)

De­val Patrick joins Cerev­el board, fur­ther in­ter­twin­ing com­pa­ny with Bain Cap­i­tal

Tony Coles’ team at Cerevel Therapeutics is adding two high-profile board members, including an ex-governor that has lots of connections to the Boston area where the biotech is based.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick is hopping on Cerevel’s board of directors, the company announced Thursday, joining less than three months after Cerevel went public on the backs of Perceptive’s ARYA II SPAC. And in a twist, Pfizer’s new business development chief Deborah Baron is joining the board as well, about three years after the Big Pharma shuttered the neuroscience pipeline that Cerevel is seeking to revive.

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Neu­vo­gen un­cloaks with broad plan of at­tack for whole-cell can­cer vac­cines, clin­i­cal hopes with­in the year

After about four stealthy years in the development phase, San Diego-based Neuvogen is emerging with a new approach to whole-cell cancer vaccines and nine solid tumor programs bound for the clinic.

Whole-cell tumor vaccines are developed by taking cancer cells from patients and modifying them to make them immunogenic.

“What’s different from what we do, is most people use one cell line. We use six,” CEO Todd Binder said. From there, the company builds out six modifications to eliminate problematic immunosuppressive factors, and add what the executive called three “stimulatory factors” to generate a prime and overcome peripheral tolerance.

Jonathan Weissman (MIT)

Can a new CRISPR tech­nique un­lock the se­crets of how can­cer spreads?

Jonathan Weissman’s team watched the cancer cells spread across the doomed mouse. Engineered with a bioluminescent enzyme, they appeared in scans first as a small navy blue diamond lodged near the heart; a week later, as a triangle splayed across the mouse’s upper body, with streaks of green and two distinct bright red hubs of activity. By day 54, the mouse resembled a lava lamp.

The images would have been familiar to any cancer biologist, but they didn’t actually tell you much about what was going on: why the cancer was metastasizing or which cells were responsible. For that, Weissman’s team had designed a new tool. Inside the original navy blue diamond, they had engineered the microbiological equivalent of an airplane’s black box — a “molecular recorder” that, after the mouse’s death, could allow them to extract the cells and wind back intimate footage of a single cancer’s ascent.

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Janet Woodcock and Joshua Sharfstein (AP, Images)

Poll: Should Joshua Sharf­stein or Janet Wood­cock lead the FDA from here?

It’s time for a new FDA commissioner to come on board, a rite of passage for Joe Biden’s administration that should help seal the new president’s rep on seeking out the experts to lead the government over the next 4 years.

As of now, the competition for the top job appears to have narrowed down to 2 people: The longtime CDER chief Janet Woodcock and Joshua Sharfstein, the former principal deputy at the FDA under Peggy Hamburg. Both were appointed by Barack Obama.