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