A 32-year-old biotech CEO just raised $1.1 billion from SoftBank to give old drugs new life

Vivek Ramaswamy CEO of AxovantLisa Lake/GettyRoivant CEO Vivek Ramaswamy
  • Pharmaceutical company Roivant just raised $US1.1 billion from an investor group led by SoftBank Vision Fund.
  • It’s one of the largest funding rounds for a life sciences company, even bigger than the $US900 million raised by cancer-testing company Grail in March 2017.
  • Roivant’s 32-year-old CEO Vivek Ramaswamy told Business Insider that the funding would be used to develop drugs that other companies have ditched, and build Roivant beyond the traditional roles of a pharmaceutical company.

A company that develops drugs that other pharmaceutical companies have abandoned just raised $US1.1 billion in one of the largest health funding rounds.

Roivant on Wednesday announced that it had raised the funds in a round led by SoftBank Vision Fund, and joined by existing investor Dexcel Pharma.

It’s one of the largest funding rounds for a life sciences company. In March, Grail announced it raised $US900 million in its pursuit to build a blood test to detect cancer.

Roivant, which was founded by its 32-year-old CEO Vivek Ramaswamy, is a pharmaceutical company that identifies experimental drugs other companies may have stopped developing for one reason or another that still have potential to get approved and on the market.

So far, the company’s launched five subsidiaries and taken two public. Axovant, a company developing treatments for Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases, and Myovant, a women’s health company, were the biggest biotech initial public offerings of 2015 and 2016 respectively. Ramaswamy told Business Insider that going forward, the plan is to fund other “Vants,” the subsidiary companies of Roivant, with private funding, unless there’s a case where it makes more sense to go public.

Axovant’s leading Alzheimer’s drug in development is expected to have results from a late-stage phase-three trial in late September. If it’s successful, it could be in line to be Roivant’s first drug approval, not to mention the first success in years for an Alzheimer’s drug.

Along the way, Roivant’s also recruited big names to run its “Vants,” including former Medivation CEO David Hung to run Axovant and Jackie Fouse, former president and COO of Celgene, who is CEO of Dermavant, a dermatology company.

A big vision

Ramaswamy said there were three main reason for raising the $US1.1 billion:

  • Hee didn’t want to limit the number of drugs the company could potentially develop based on funding constraints.
  • He wants to beef up existing Roivant capabilities, such as carrying out early research for the companies it launches and providing them with IT and other internal services.
  • Investing in areas that typically aren’t linked to developing new drugs. For example, on Wednesday, Roivant also unveiled Datavant, a company that will be more tech-focused to speed up drug development.

Ramaswamy told Business Insider that the major funding round has a lot to do with the scale of the company’s ambition to go beyond the tradition biotech/pharma model of bringing new drugs to the market.

“The ball’s in our court,” he said. “I believe the pharma company of the future isn’t going to be old-school.”

Instead, he said he envisions it being more integrated with technology and data to help speed along drug development. The hope is that having traditionally tech investors like SoftBank and recruiting employees like computer programmers from companies outside of the pharma industry will help pull that off.

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