On the Wednesday night debate stage, the youngest candidate didn’t win any favor among his fellow Republican presidential contenders. He challenged their ethics, ridiculed their commitments, and proposed that his lack of government experience uniquely qualified him to tackle the nation’s issues.
This wasn’t unfamiliar territory for Vivek Ramaswamy.
Back in 2015, when he was a 29-year-old hedge fund manager fresh out of Yale Law School, Ramaswamy exhibited a similar boldness in the biotech industry. He lectured the trillion-dollar pharmaceutical sector on its flawed approach to drug development. His company, Roivant, aimed to outsmart industry giants like Pfizer and Merck by recognizing value in medicines they overlooked due to bureaucratic constraints. He claimed that Roivant would achieve “the highest return on investment endeavor ever taken up in the pharmaceutical industry,” as he stated in an interview with Forbes at the time.
Much like during the recent debate, Ramaswamy’s presence provoked divided opinions. Some colleagues in the biotech field hailed him as a visionary who disrupted an industry marred by stagnation at the top echelons. Others regarded him as a profit-driven opportunist capitalizing on a historic biotech boom, employing a business model that seemed more likely to enrich him and his hedge fund associates than to generate new drugs.
One year later, Ramaswamy’s audacious self-assurance was tested when an Alzheimer’s disease treatment, plucked from relative obscurity, failed in a high-profile clinical trial. This failure wiped out $2 billion in value and cast doubt on the viability of Roivant’s purportedly revolutionary approach.
Ramaswamy acknowledged the setback in a letter to his employees, expressing personal humility and determination to redouble his efforts. His leadership persisted, and Roivant diversified its pipeline through subsidiaries. Ramaswamy’s fundraising acumen secured significant investments from notable sources like SoftBank and Viking Global.
By 2021, Ramaswamy shifted from CEO to executive chairman of Roivant, transforming it from a disruptive entity into a conventional drug company. As of February 2023, when he left Roivant to pursue his presidential campaign, the company had gained FDA approval for six medicines and had several more in advanced development stages.
Whether Roivant will fulfill Ramaswamy’s original promise of becoming the most impactful investment in industry history remains uncertain. However, its valuation of approximately $9 billion has captured the interest of once-targeted giants like Pfizer and Merck, who reportedly consider acquiring it.