Vivek Ramaswamy’ the youngest candidate in Wednesday night’s debate didn’t exactly win over his fellow Republican presidential hopefuls. He openly questioned their ethics, mocked their commitments, and suggested that his lack of government experience uniquely qualified him to tackle the nation’s challenges.
This terrain was not unfamiliar to Vivek Ramaswamy. Long before he found himself explaining Perestroika to Mike Pence or envisioning a future career in the defense industry for Nikki Haley, Vivek Ramaswamy had already displayed a similar audacity in the field of biotech. In 2015, at the tender age of 29, fresh out of Yale Law School, he took it upon himself to school the trillion-dollar pharmaceutical industry on their flawed approach to drug development.
His company, Roivant, promised to outsmart giants like Pfizer and Merck by uncovering hidden value in medications they were too entrenched to recognize. Vivek Ramaswamy boldly declared it would be “the highest return on investment endeavor ever taken up in the pharmaceutical industry.”
Much like his performance at the recent debate, Ramaswamy’s actions in the biotech world were polarizing. Some hailed him as a visionary, an outsider injecting much-needed innovation into an industry bogged down by bureaucracy. Others labeled him a profiteer, capitalizing on the historic biotech boom with a business plan that seemed more likely to enrich him and his hedge fund allies than to produce new medicines.
“I may look foolish in two or three years,” cautioned a Massachusetts Institute of Technology business professor in 2016, “but it appears some folks are getting hoodwinked.”
A year later, Ramaswamy’s unshakable confidence was put to the test, and it ended in disgrace. An Alzheimer’s disease treatment, plucked from relative obscurity, failed in a highly anticipated clinical trial, wiping out $2 billion in value. This lent credence to the belief that Roivant’s supposedly revolutionary model was, perhaps, too clever for its own good.
“I apologize to those who bought into the hype and to Alzheimer’s patients and their families who held hope for this compound,” wrote biochemist Derek Lowe on his blog. “But frankly, I see this entire endeavor as a misallocation of resources. Alzheimer’s research could have benefited more from this funding being directed almost anywhere else in the field.”
Vivek Ramaswamy, personally stung by the failure, wrote a letter to his employees acknowledging the challenge. “While this is personally difficult for me, it may not be a bad thing for our business. I will channel the ‘sting’ I feel now to redouble my efforts to ensure our company succeeds, emerging stronger from this experience of failure.”
By then, Vivek Ramaswamy, already one of biotech’s most prominent millennials not named Martin Shkreli, had devised contingency plans. Roivant had amassed a pipeline of medicines through a growing number of subsidiaries, and Ramaswamy’s fundraising skills had secured its future with billions from investors like SoftBank and Viking Global.
In 2021, Ramaswamy stepped down as CEO to become executive chairman. Roivant transformed from a brash disruptor to a more conventional pharmaceutical company. By February 2023, when Ramaswamy left the company entirely to embark on his presidential campaign, Roivant had six FDA-approved medicines and a dozen more in late-stage development.
Whether it can fulfill Ramaswamy’s original promise of becoming the greatest return on investment in industry history remains to be seen. However, it’s currently valued at approximately $9 billion, and the once-doubted giants like Pfizer and Merck are reportedly considering acquiring it.
|Source of Wealth
|investments, Self Made
|New York, New York
|Bachelor of Arts/Science, Harvard University; Doctor of Jurisprudence, Yale University