On his 30th birthday last month, Vivek Ramaswamy had a lot
to celebrate. Roivant Sciences, the company he founded last
year to commercialize late-stage drug candidates for
dementia-related illnesses, was still buzzing from the June
initial public offering of its majority-owned subsidiary,
Axovant, which bought an Alzheimers disease drug known
as RVT-101 from U.S. pharmaceuticals giant GlaxoSmithKline last
December for $5 million and a 12.5 percent share of future
royalties, smashed all previous biotechnology float records.
The companys early backers included several
hedge fund firms: RA Capital Management of Boston and New
Yorks Visium Asset Management and QVT Financial, where
Ramaswamy worked as a partner before founding Roivant. Along
with New Yorkbased hedge fund managers D.E. Shaw &
Co. and Falcon Edge Capital, each of these investors holds at
least 1 million Axovant shares, according to Securities and
Exchange Commission filings; with 75 million, QVT owns the
The buzz wasnt all positive: Many saw the $334 million
IPO and $1 billionplus market capitalization of a small
company with just one drug still awaiting Food and Drug
Administration approval as a bubble warning sign, and
Axovants stock has suffered from the speculation. After
the share price nearly doubled on the first day of trading to
finish at $29.90, it leveled off, closing at $11.18 on August
But CEO Ramaswamy, dapper and energetic at Axovants
Garment District office in New York, says he isnt worried
about the naysayers.
Its puzzling that we, with a late-stage drug and
wholly owned rights, addressing an unmet need with human
clinical data already in hand . . . would have been part of
that bubble discussion, he says. Were focused
on drug development rather than what current market conditions
are or arent. The most important thing that matters at
this point is the data.
Hes eager to share that Axovant has plenty of it. In
July the company presented the results of a recent Phase 2
trial of the drug at the Alzheimers Association
International Conference in Washington, where the response from
doctors was mainly positive. The data showed a slower decline
in cognitive ability, particularly among patients who took
RVT-101 along with a generic form of Aricept, the most commonly
used Alzheimers drug.
Nothing we see is suggestive in humans of a cure, and
we would like to be part of that future as it unfolds,
Ramaswamy explains. But now the real goal is to turn
[Alzheimers] into a chronic condition that can be managed
through a combination of medications, like diseases like
diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
One in three U.S. seniors dies with Alzheimers or
another dementia-related disease, according to the New
Yorkbased Alzheimers Association, and in the U.S.
the annual cost of treating Alzheimers and other
dementia-related illnesses is expected to reach more than $1
trillion by 2050, versus $226 billion this year.
Ramaswamy, who grew up in Cincinnati, earned biology and law
degrees from Harvard and Yale universities in 2007 and 2013,
respectively. He co-founded Campus Venture Network, a student
entrepreneur networking firm, the year he left Harvard, selling
it in 2009 to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a Kansas
City, Missouribased entrepreneurship and education
nonprofit; he was a partner at QVT from 2007 through 2014. At
QVT, Ramaswamy co-managed the firms biotech portfolio,
which included investments in companies developing new drugs,
such as U.S. outfits Palatin Technologies and Concert
Pharmaceuticals. He also chairs the board of Burnaby, British
Columbiabased Arbutus Biopharma Corp., which is seeking
to develop a cure for chronic hepatitis B.
Given his background and those of others involved with
Axovant, Ramaswamy is confident that experience and history are
on the companys side. Axovants chief development
officer is Lawrence Friedhoff, former executive vice president
of research and development at Eisai USA, the U.S. arm of
Japanese pharmaceuticals company Eisai Co., which brought
Aricept to market in 1996. That drug helps form the foundation
of the case for RVT-101, which is meant not to replace existing
medications but to work with them to improve cognition in
The next step is to conduct a Phase 3 trial using funds from
the IPO. GSK abandoned RVT-101 after failing to find
statistically significant results in trials using a different
scale than the one Axovant has employed. So why take a chance
on this particular drug?
The point of Axovant, Ramaswamy says, is to give new life to
drug candidates that have been discontinued or
suboptimally developed for reasons unrelated to
their potential efficacy, especially those that target the
largest unmet needs in dementia.
Although Axovant has only one drug right now, its
billing itself not as an RVT-101 company but as a
dementia solutions business. Ramaswamy wants to
tackle all the ugly effects of decline in mental capacity,
including but not limited to Alzheimers, through a
cost-efficient, patient-focused model of buying and developing
drugs that others have discovered.
The U.S. in particular is undergoing a huge
demographic change, and there is a great range of unmet needs
as a consequence of aging, he says. I worry that we
societally may not be ready for it, but I am confident in the
ability of our company and, hopefully, other companies
to address this problem.
ollow Kaitlin Ugolik on Twitter at @kaitlinugolik.