Vi­sion or voodoo? Biotech IPO mas­ter Vivek Ra­maswamy is still set­ting up new biotechs and hatch­ing more deals

Vivek Ra­maswamy

In the 18 months since Vivek Ra­maswamy blind­sided the biotech in­dus­try with a record-set­ting IPO for the mys­tery biotech Ax­o­vant, the one-time hedge fund mae­stro turned drug en­tre­pre­neur has set up three more com­pa­nies and tak­en one of them pub­lic at near su­per­son­ic speed, all while busi­ly in-li­cens­ing drugs from a grow­ing list of sup­pli­ers.

And he isn’t slow­ing down. In a sit­down with me at JP Mor­gan this week, Ra­maswamy says he may well un­cork an­oth­er start­up and strike up an­oth­er three or four deals in 2017.

“I wouldn’t be sur­prised to see an­oth­er ma­jor ‘vant’ in 2017,” Ra­maswamy says, as he fo­cus­es on a va­ri­ety of new fields like a “post im­muno-on­col­o­gy world,” in­fec­tious dis­eases and pul­monolo­gy.

Ra­maswamy is per­haps the most ac­com­plished fi­nan­cial en­gi­neer in the in­dus­try, and that’s ex­act­ly the rep­u­ta­tion he hates the most.

“I don’t per­son­al­ly take pride in our IPOs as an ac­com­plish­ment,” says the young chief of Roivant Sci­ences, the um­brel­la com­pa­ny that hosts Ax­o­vant ($AX­ON, a $360 mil­lion IPO), My­ovant ($MY­OV, a $218 mil­lion IPO), En­zy­vant and Der­ma­vant. A pained frown clouds a typ­i­cal­ly smil­ing face as I list his Wall Street coups, which have added enor­mous­ly to his wealth.

In­stead of Wall Street sta­tus, Ra­maswamy is go­ing for bio­phar­ma vi­sion­ary, look­ing to take an al­ready well de­fined ap­proach in-li­cens­ing Big Phar­ma’s castoffs and ramp­ing it up while find­ing an ef­fi­cient, sus­tain­able R&D strat­e­gy that in­cludes re­al­ly in­cen­tiviz­ing the peo­ple do­ing the work to suc­ceed — rather than grim­ly hang­ing on to what­ev­er project they have in hand. And with that re­cruit­ment strat­e­gy Ra­maswamy fig­ures he can hire the best, in­clud­ing peo­ple like My­ovant CEO Lynn Seely, a Medi­va­tion vet­er­an.

He’s been able to do much of this af­ter rais­ing a phe­nom­e­nal amount of cash from in­vestors while of­ten pay­ing ex­tra­or­di­nar­i­ly lit­tle for his as­sets. (And not just from his share­hold­ers. Bil­lion­aire An­dreas Halvors­en’s Viking Glob­al In­vestors is al­so par­tic­i­pat­ing.) GSK let go of Ax­o­vant’s Alzheimer’s drug for a mere $5 mil­lion in cash — af­ter it had burned through much more in a failed ef­fort to gain pos­i­tive da­ta. My­ovant was whipped up through a pact with Take­da, which was glad to grab eq­ui­ty in pay­ment. Ra­maswamy al­so says that it was Take­da that pushed for an IPO.

Be­ing su­per suc­cess­ful at cre­at­ing pa­per bil­lions — at least tem­porar­i­ly — out of deals done with bar­gain base­ment prices at a time as­set val­u­a­tions have been go­ing through the roof has land­ed Ra­maswamy on the cov­er of Forbes, in TechCrunch and plen­ty of oth­er pubs and places as well.

And lat­er this year he can start to ei­ther live up to his self-im­age as the de­vel­op­er of im­por­tant new med­i­cines with a rad­i­cal new R&D strat­e­gy or start to feel the pain of re­search risk as his Alzheimer’s drug is set to read out late-stage da­ta.

In the mean­time, look out for for more deals ahead. Ra­maswamy is nev­er far from his smart phone.

Qual­i­ty Con­trol in Cell and Gene Ther­a­py – What’s Re­al­ly at Stake?

In early 2021, Bluebird Bio was forced to suspend clinical trials of its gene therapy for sickle cell disease after two patients in the trial developed cancer. As company scientists rushed to assess whether there was any causal link between the therapy and the cancer cases, Bluebird’s stock value plummeted – as did those of multiple other biopharma companies developing similar therapies.

While investigations concluded that the gene therapy was unlikely to have caused cancer, investors and the public may be more skittish regarding the safety of gene and cell therapies after this episode. This recent example highlights how delicate the fields of cell and gene therapy remain today, even as they show great promise.

Brad Bolzon (Versant)

Ver­sant pulls the wraps off of near­ly $1B in 3 new funds out to build the next fleet of biotech star­tups. And this new gen­er­a­tion is built for speed

Brad Bolzon has an apology to offer by way of introducing a set of 3 new funds that together pack a $950 million wallop in new biotech creation and growth.

“I want to apologize,” says the Versant chairman and managing partner, laughing a little in the intro, “that we don’t have anything fancy or flashy to tell you about our new fund. Same team, around the same amount of capital, same investment strategy. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

But then there’s the flip side, where everything has changed. Or at least speeded into a relative blur. Here’s Bolzon:

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Jenny Rooke (Genoa Ventures)

Ear­ly Zymer­gen in­vestor Jen­ny Rooke re­flects on 'chimeras' in biotech, what it takes to spot a $500M gem

When Jenny Rooke first heard of Zymergen back in 2014, she knew she was looking at something different and exciting. The Emeryville, CA biotech held the promise of blending biology and technology to solve a huge unmet need for cost-effective chemicals — of all things — and a stellar founding team to boot.

But back then, West Coast venture capitalists didn’t see in Zymergen the one thing they were looking for in a winning biotech: therapeutic potential. Rooke, however, saw an opportunity and made her bets. Seven years later, that bet is paying off in a big way.

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Law pro­fes­sors call for FDA to dis­close all safe­ty and ef­fi­ca­cy da­ta for drugs

Back in early 2018 when Scott Gottlieb led the FDA, there was a moment when the agency seemed poised to release redacted complete response letters and other previously undisclosed data. But that initiative never gained steam.

Now, a growing chorus of researchers are finding that a dearth of public data on clinical trials and pharmaceuticals means industry and the FDA cannot be held accountable, two law professors from Yale and New York University write in an article published Wednesday in the California Law Review.

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Novavax CEO Stanley Erck at the White House in 2020 (Andrew Harnik, AP Images)

As fears mount over J&J and As­traZeneca, No­vavax en­ters a shaky spot­light

As concerns rise around the J&J and AstraZeneca vaccines, global attention is increasingly turning to the little, 33-year-old, productless, bankruptcy-flirting biotech that could: Novavax.

In the now 16-month race to develop and deploy Covid-19 vaccines, Novavax has at times seemed like the pandemic’s most unsuspecting frontrunner and at times like an overhyped also-ran. Although they started the pandemic with only enough cash to last 6 months, they leveraged old connections and believers into $2 billion and emerged last summer with data experts said surpassed Pfizer and Moderna. They unveiled plans to quickly scale to 2 billion doses. Then they couldn’t even make enough material to run their US trial and watched four other companies beat them to the finish line.

FDA of­fers scathing re­view of Emer­gent plan­t's san­i­tary con­di­tions, em­ploy­ee train­ing af­ter halt­ing pro­duc­tion

The FDA wrapped up its inspection of Emergent’s troubled vaccine manufacturing plant in Baltimore on Tuesday, after halting production there on Monday. By Wednesday morning, the agency already released a series of scathing observations on the cross contamination, sanitary issues and lack of staff training that caused the contract manufacturer to dispose of millions of AstraZeneca and J&J vaccine doses.

Saurabh Saha at Endpoints News' #BIO19

On the heels of $250M launch, Centes­sa barges ahead with an IPO to fu­el its 10-in-1 Medicxi pipeline

Francesco De Rubertis made no secret of IPO plans for Centessa, his 10-in-1 legacy play. Barely two months later, the S-1 is in.

The hot-off-the-press filing depicts the same grand vision that the longtime VC touted when he did the rounds in February: Take the asset-centric mindset that he’s been preaching at Medicxi over the years, and roll up a bunch of biotech upstarts, with unrelated risk profiles, into 1 pharma company that can carry on the development at scale.

Sushil Patel, Replimune

Ex­clu­sive: Genen­tech's for­mer Tecen­triq 'CEO' jumps ship to head up com­mer­cial at an on­colyt­ic virus play­er

Genentech has long been a headhunter’s paradise with biotechs shopping for top execs with premium résumés, so it’s not unusual to see some long-time employees jumping ship. Now, one of the commercial leads on the company’s oncology portfolio is leaving after a 20-year stint to try his hand at a tiny oncolytic virus biotech.

Sushil Patel, Genentech’s former global oncology franchise head for lung and skin cancer and rare/agnostic tumor types, will leave his post at the world’s first biotech to head commercial at a much smaller operation in Replimune, which is using oncolytic viruses to hunt solid tumors.

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Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) (Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA/Sipa via AP Images)

Sen­a­tors to NIH: Do more to pro­tect US bio­med­ical re­search from for­eign in­flu­ence

Although Thursday’s Senate health committee hearing was focused on how foreign countries and adversaries might be trying to steal or negatively influence biomedical research in the US, the only country mentioned by the senators and expert witnesses was China.

Committee chair Patty Murray (D-WA) made clear in her opening remarks that the US cannot “let the few instances of bad actors” overshadow the hard work of the many immigrant researchers in the US, many of which have won Nobel prizes for their work. But she also said, “There is more the NIH can be doing here.”