Having become one of the 20 youngest US billionaires as founder and CEO of disruptive biotech firm Roivant Sciences, Vivek Ramaswamy has now set his sights on becoming his country’s president. A long-term critic of how ESG criteria are used in corporate decision-making, Ramaswamy has since gone even further to adopt a Trumpian “anti-woke” ideology in the hope of securing the Republican Party Presidential nomination. Moreover, he has laid out a raft of drastic changes to the federal government – including swingeing cuts at the FDA – that he would make were he to accede to the top job.
Roivant: A Novel Strategy
Within the global biotech and life sciences world Vivek Ramaswamy is known for founding Roivant Sciences, a company he set up in 2014 after earning a biology degree from Harvard University and finishing Yale Law School. Based on the novel strategy of buying up pharma’s abandoned drug candidates to either retry or refocus them instead of searching for innovative science of its own, Roivant spawned a number of subsidiaries, or “vants,” by picking up candidates from the likes of GlaxoSmithKline.
Just a year after its founding, one of these vants, Axovant, on the back of its promising Alzheimer’s candidate Intepirdine, went public at a USD 2.2 billion valuation. While Intepirdine did not end up delivering in a clinical trial two years later, Axovant morphed into a gene therapy outfit called Sio Gene Therapies in 2020 and is now worth around USD 30 million.
Beyond that initial success, Ramaswamy went on to sell five of Roivant’s other vants —Myovant, Urovant, Enzyvant, Altavant and Spirovant— to Japanese firm Sumitomo Dainippon for USD three billion along with a 10 percent stake in the company in 2019. Roivant went public in 2021 and with its stock rising by almost 40 percent this year, the biotech company has continued on its growth trajectory through its multiple vants, launching a topical treatment for plaque psoriasis, achieving six FDA approvals and advancing three candidates into phase III trials.
While Ramaswamy holds a 10 percent stake in Roivant worth some USD 600 million, the Republican candidate’s investments have long extended beyond the life sciences with interests in everything from Bitcoin to the YouTube competitor Rumble. In 2021 Ramaswamy stepped down from his role as CEO at Roivant and revealed his interest in politics with the publication of “Woke, Inc.,” a book that criticises the growing focus on social justice within companies. Shortly afterwards he began his asset management firm, Strive, which is opposed to making investment decisions based on Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance (ESG) criteria.
Originally used in the US to describe someone who is informed and conscious of social injustice and racial inequality, Republicans, including former president and front-running candidate Donald Trump and contender Ron DeSantis, use the term “woke” as an insult. Ramaswamy’s “anti-woke” philosophy, although it has its base in business and investment, has formed the foundation of his politics. He speaks out against environmental, social and corporate governance policies as forces that restrict economic growth while as a traditional Republican candidate, he also demonstrates wariness towards government.
“Democrats and Republicans alike, we tend to be more proud of a country when we’re all making more money in that country,” the candidate said in a recent meeting as reported by Forbes. “We don’t have to flog ourselves for capitalism. Stop apologizing for capitalism. We should embrace capitalism.”
FDA in the Crosshairs
The biotech maverick remains far behind Donald Trump and Florida governor Ron DeSantis according to the polls, but if Ramaswamy were to get a shot at being president, what kind of policies is he looking to introduce? And given his background, are any of them focused on the innovative pharma industry?
Countless FDA regulations and actions are hypocritical, harmful and unconstitutional. I will rescind them accordingly
Apart from his most vocal propositions about raising the voting age to 25 and abolishing a number of federal departments including the Department of Education, the Internal Revenue Service and the FBI, it was not until recently that Ramaswamy spoke about anything related to the pharma industry. Namely, he has accused the FDA of corruption and claimed he would revoke a number of its policies.
“Countless FDA regulations and actions are hypocritical, harmful and unconstitutional. I will rescind them accordingly,” he said in a post on X (formerly Twitter). “For years I was coached by industry veterans not to speak out against FDA. It’s well known that if you anger the FDA, they will punish you by blackballing review of your drug review applications.”
Photo credit: Vivek Ramaswamy