After buying up a big chunk of Arbutus’ $ABUS shares, Roivant CEO Vivek Ramaswamy has created a new joint venture startup that brings some top industry veterans together with a mix of RNA-related technologies to launch a new company that will now build up a pipeline.
In a twist for Ramaswamy, his new venture — Genevant Sciences — doesn’t involve in-licensing a late-stage therapy with an eye towards a quick flip to pivotal data. This time he’s taking tech from Arbutus and building a pipeline from scratch. But he still plans to move fast into a field of deeply experienced rivals.
He has also put together an experienced team for Genevant:
They’ll be working on a range of RNA-based therapeutics backed by Arbutus’ proprietary lipid nanoparticle and ligand conjugate delivery technologies in what’s described as a mix of RNAi, messenger RNA and gene editing — three of the hottest technologies now finding their way forward in the clinic.
Roivant is chipping in $37.5 million in seed capital for Genevant, with a commitment to keep funding the group to get 5 to 10 product candidates into the clinic by 2020.
The alliance follows Ramaswamy’s move last fall to invest $116.4 million in Arbutus, a Canadian biotech with a big focus on hepatitis B. Now this new JV will turn to an R&D operation in Canada, with a base in Cambridge, MA and an operations group in Basel.
This is a critical stage for Ramaswamy. The utter failure of Axovant to make a dent in Alzheimer’s has raised serious questions about his judgment in selecting drugs for his startups. On the other hand, he’s also raised billions to get more companies launched, and he has exhibited considerable skill in financial engineering, even if his drug development savvy is in question.
Image: Vivek Ramaswamy Getty
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