What’s bigger than a unicorn? Samumed stuns yet again as anti-aging pipeline draws $438M at $12B valuation

Samumed came out with a bang a couple years ago, when it boldly announced a couple of anti-aging programs and a $12 billion valuation. The San Diego company, which operated in stealth through much of its first decade, had no late-stage programs and no products on the market at the time, causing quite the hubbub when it claimed unicorn status.

Today, that company has added $438 million of equity backing to its coffers, closing a mega-round that adds to its previously raised $212 million. And yet again, the company announced its pre-money valuation for the latest round at a whopping $12 billion. Even in these go-go days of biotech, the dollars are eye-popping.

The figure will certainly raise eyebrows, but that’s nothing new for Osman Kibar, Samumed’s passionate and colorful CEO. I met with Kibar back in 2016, touring the rather quiet halls of Samumed’s headquarters. His enthusiasm for the company’s investigational osteoarthritis drug left an impression on me, as he fervently sketched graphs on a whiteboard to help me understand the WNT pathway.

“We’re sitting on a goldmine, and this is only the tip of the iceberg,” Kibar said at the time. “If our strategy was to sell, no one could afford us.”

Founded in 2008, Samumed now has eight programs in its pipeline: two Phase II drugs, five in Phase I, and one preclinical. Its late-stage programs are in osteoarthritis and androgenetic alopecia (hair loss).

The company’s Phase II trial in OA enrolled 455 patients and went for a year. This patient population includes over 20 million Americans who suffer from cartilage wearing away in their joints and the resulting pain associated with movement. There’s no real treatment besides pain medication, which can exacerbate the problem (feeling less pain, patients tend to move around more and further wear down that cartilage). After receiving a single injection, patients showed cartilage growth at the medial joint.

But in Samumed’s very brief press release on this new round of funding, the company did not mention where the money came from. That caught my attention, because when I first wrote about Samumed, I thought the company’s lead investors were odd choices: IKEA’s private venture firm, anonymous high-net-worth individuals and a single venture capital firm called Vickers Venture Partners. The biggest investors are a furniture company and a venture firm with no history of drug discovery investments. How could they recognize a valuable investment when they saw one?

I reached out to Kibar this morning to see who was in this new syndicate. Kibar replied with this:

Our existing investors participated about ~15-20% of this round, the rest are new. And we went with private capital again (family offices, high net worth individuals, and sovereign funds), no VC/PE (except Vickers).

Finian Tan, chairman at Vickers, at the time explained that Samumed was the first of many investments in drug discovery. Tan himself is no rookie in healthcare. He’s served as executive deputy chairman of Singapore’s National Science and Technology Board, as well as on the boards of The National Cancer Center of Singapore, venture firm Life Sciences Investment, and SingHealth, the biggest health care group in Singapore.

Though not a scientist himself, he apparently has a knack for eyeing good investments. Tan was an early investor of Baidu, known as the “Google of China” and currently valued at $80 billion. Tan said his venture firm made the biggest entry investment it’s ever made with Samumed due to the company’s uniquely high reward vs. risk profile. The last time he made a similar investment was Baidu itself, Tan said.

Samumed’s drug discovery platform could be “a breakthrough of huge proportions,” Tan said in an email. “The impact on humankind would be an order of magnitude we have not seen since (Alexander) Fleming’s discovery of antibiotics (in the 1920s).”

Time will tell.

Kibar said Samumed is targeting its first approval within the next few years.

“This round takes us there (including all our programs, clinical and preclinical pipeline), plus launch cost, plus some extra cushion,” Kibar wrote in an email.

Image: Osman Kibar.

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