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.

Donald and Melania Trump watch the smoke of fireworks from the South Lawn of the White House on July 4, 2020 (via Getty)

Which drug de­vel­op­ers of­fer Trump a quick, game-chang­ing ‘so­lu­tion’ as the pan­dem­ic roars back? Eli Lil­ly and Ab­Cellera look to break out of the pack

We are unleashing our nation’s scientific brilliance and will likely have a therapeutic and/or vaccine solution long before the end of the year.

— Donald Trump, July 4

Next week administration officials plan to promote a new study they say shows promising results on therapeutics, the officials said. They wouldn’t describe the study in any further detail because, they said, its disclosure would be “market-moving.”

— NBC News, July 3

Something’s cooking. And it’s not just July 4 leftovers involving stale buns and uneaten hot dogs.

Over the long weekend observers picked up signs that the focus in the Trump administration may swiftly shift from the bright spotlight on vaccines being promised this fall, around the time of the election, to include drugs that could possibly keep patients out of the hospital and take the political sting out of the soaring Covid-19 numbers causing embarrassment in states that swiftly reopened — as Trump cheered along.

So far, Gilead has been the chief beneficiary of the drive on drugs, swiftly offering enough early data to get remdesivir an emergency authorization and into the hands of the US government. But their drug, while helpful in cutting stays, is known for a limited, modest effect. And that won’t tamp down on the hurricane of criticism that’s been tearing at the White House, and buffeting the president’s most stalwart core defenders as the economy suffers.

We’ve had positive early-stage vaccine data, most recently from Pfizer and BioNTech, playing catchup on an mRNA race led by Moderna — where every little sign of potential trouble is magnified into a lethal threat, just as every advance excites a frenzy of support. But that race still has months to play out, with more Phase I data due ahead of the mid-stage numbers looming ahead. A vaccine may not be available in large enough quantities until well into 2021, which is still wildly ambitious.

So what about a drug solution?

Trump’s initial support for a panacea focused on hydroxychloroquine. But that fizzled in the face of data underscoring its ineffectiveness — killing trials that aren’t likely to be restarted because of a recent population-based study offering some support. And there are a number of existing drugs being repurposed to see how they help hospitalized patients.

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Douglas Love, Annexon CEO (Annexon)

IPO bound? Ac­tu­al­ly, An­nex­on was al­ready prepped and primed to toss its S-1 to Wall Street as in­vestors ral­lied

The Wall Street IPO shuffle generally calls for a little distance between the crossover ante and the Wall Street double, but with the window on the street wide open and biotech sizzling hot, who’s waiting?

The crew at Annexon didn’t leave anyone in suspense for long about their IPO plans. A day after the Bay Area biotech with clinical plans to target neurodegeneration quietly unveiled a $100 million raise, they were back with an S-1 outlining a pitch to double that — or more.

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Cel­lec­tis slammed af­ter pa­tient dies and FDA slaps a hold on their tri­al for an off-the-shelf CAR-T for mul­ti­ple myelo­ma

Cellectis was slammed after the market close on Monday as the biotech reported that the FDA demanded it hit the brakes on their MELANI-01 trial for their off-the-shelf cell therapy UCARTCS1A after one of the patients in the study died of treatment-related cardiac arrest.

The multiple myeloma patient had previously been treated unsuccessfully with various therapies, noted the biotech, and had been given dose level two (DL2) of their allogeneic CAR-T.

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Shoshanna Shendelman, Applied Therapeutics CEO (Applied Therapeutics)

A lit­tle biotech slaps back at a 'crim­i­nal' short at­tack, vow­ing to pur­sue a pros­e­cu­tion of their case

As short attacks go, Biotech Research Partners’ assault on Applied Therapeutics’ “cherry picked” data and a variety of so-called red flags didn’t cause a whole lot of damage. Ahead of the July 4 holiday, its shares $APLT were dinged and showed signs of quick recovery.

But that didn’t stop an incendiary response, as the biotech swung into action bright and early Monday morning.

Applied Therapeutics accused the authors of the short report of manipulating graphs and figures, misrepresenting data and included factual misrepresentations — all of which added up, in their view, to fraud.

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Bill Haney, Dragonfly CEO (Dave Pedley/Getty Images for SXSW)

A boom­ing Drag­on­fly is tak­ing its TriN­KETs to Copen­hagen as the lat­est Bris­tol My­ers pact spurs ex­pan­sion plans — out­side the US

Bristol Myers Squibb is making a habit out of collaborating with the crew at Dragonfly, adding their 3rd deal in a series that now will take them into newly charted R&D territory. And the fast-growing team at the Cambridge-based biotech is adding a facility in Copenhagen for its next growth spurt, where the government is making it easy to recruit scientists internationally as the U.S. throttles back.

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Covid-19 roundup: Teamed up with NIH, Re­gen­eron launch­es PhI­II pre­ven­tion tri­al for an­ti­body cock­tail

As Regeneron moves its antibody cocktail into Phase II/III trials testing REGN-COV2 as a treatment for both hospitalized and non-hospitalized patients with Covid-19, the biotech is also starting a Phase III in the prevention setting.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases — which orchestrated the large, randomized study for remdesivir that produced positive results — will jointly run the study.

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George Yancopoulos (Regeneron)

UP­DAT­ED: Re­gen­eron co-founder George Yan­copou­los of­fers a com­bat­ive de­fense of the po­lice at a high school com­mence­ment. It didn’t go well

Typically, the commencement speech at Yorktown Central School District in Westchester — like most high schools — is an opportunity to encourage students to face the future with confidence and hope. Regeneron president and co-founder George Yancopoulos, though, went a different route.

In a fiery speech, the outspoken billionaire defended the police against the “prejudice and bias against law enforcement” that has erupted around the country in street protests from coast to coast. And for many who attended the commencement, Yancopoulos struck the wrong note at the wrong time, especially when he combatively challenged someone for interrupting his speech with a honk for “another act of cowardness.”

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Elias Zerhouni (Photo by Vincent Isore/IP3/Getty Images)

Elias Zer­houni dis­cuss­es ‘am­a­teur hour’ in DC, the de­struc­tion of in­fec­tious dis­ease R&D and how we need to prep for the next time

Elias Zerhouni favors blunt talk, and in a recent discussion with NPR, the ex-Sanofi R&D and ex-NIH chief had some tough points to make regarding the pandemic response.

Rather than interpret them, I thought it would be best to provide snippets straight from the interview.

On the Trump administration response:

It was basically amateur hour. There is no central concept of operations for preparedness, for pandemics, period. This administration doesn’t want to or has no concept of what it takes to protect the American people and the world because it is codependent. You can’t close your borders and say, “OK, we’re going to be safe.” You’re not going to be able to do that in this world. So it’s a lack of vision, basically just a lack of understanding, of what it takes to protect the American people.

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Jean-Paul Clozel, Idorsia CEO (Patrick Straub/Keystone via AP Images)

Sec­ond PhI­II study for Idor­si­a's sleep drug re­turns pos­i­tive re­sults, but al­so rais­es new ques­tions

Following a successful Phase III study in April showcasing the safety and potential of its new sleep drug, Idorsia posted some mixed news in the second Phase III study, but that won’t stop a planned filing aimed at regulatory approval.

The drug, a dual orexin receptor antagonist (DORA) called daridorexant, was found to significantly improve sleep maintenance and subjective total sleep time in 25 mg doses, replicating results from the first Phase III study. However, improvements in sleep onset and daytime functioning narrowly missed statistical significance, despite numerical consistency with the April study.