Vivek Ramaswamy says he wouldn’t do anything differently.
The high-profile investor-turned CEO was responding to a question at the BIO CEO & Investor Conference in New York on Tuesday about the recent failure of the Alzheimer’s drug intepirdine.
"One thing I am proud of is that we did a clear experiment that got a clear result, that resulted in a clear decision to terminate the development of that drug in a way that I hope the field learns from in that it would not be a valid hypothesis to continue to be worth exploring relative to other hypothesis out there," he said.
"I'm really sorry that we weren't able to do something about it and I thought we were in striking distance. The fact that we got that close to having a major impact and didn't, hurts," Ramaswamy told the conference.
Ramaswamy is the founder and CEO of the private, parent company Roivant Sciences, which encompasses a group of companies nicknamed the ‘Vants’ that each focus on acquiring mid-to-late stage assets discarded by other companies and developing them in a specific therapeutic area.
One such Vant – Axovant Sciences– focuses on neuroscience and has been a Wall Street darling, bringing in $315 million in its initial public offering. The company promised to bring a disease-modifying therapy for Alzheimer’s disease to market by developing a discarded asset from GlaxoSmithKline plc.
Adding to the hype was the larger-than-life CEO tapped to run the company. David Hung, fresh off the $14 billion sale of his company Medivation to Pfizer Inc., all but promised that Axovant would succeed where virtually every big pharma has failed.
While the company rode that momentum to a 52-week high near $30 per share, all came crashing down in September when Axovant announced that intepirdine failed in a late-stage trial. That failure was compounded in January when the company chose to abandon the asset altogether.
"We operate with 18 business principles as a company and number 16 is to learn from failure," said Ramaswamy in New York. "But true to our principles I want to take a very close look at would we have done anything differently in December 2014 when we made the decision to take over intepirdine from GSK. In my net conclusion after looking at that, there is probably nothing in a meaningful way we could’ve done differently in the decision of advancing that drug into Phase 3 development in the first place," he said.
"Obviously if I could've lifted the veil of the future and knew it was going to fail, the answer would be 'No.' But given the fact that we knew at the time – or given those same set of facts on a different mechanism of action with a different drug today – I think we would make the same decision," he noted.
Shares of Axovant approached the $1 per share mark when Hung abruptly exited this week.
"Roivant, as a company, remains firmly committed to the success of every one of our companies, regardless of the failure of any one of our drugs," said Ramaswamy.
"One of the advantages of having this family of companies is that even when we have to terminate a project, we can make that decision with clinical precision on a scientific basis, but in a way that does not necessarily affect the job prospects of the people who work on that project," he added.
It's unlikely Hung – who also resigned his position on the board of directors – will show up elsewhere in the Roivant family. (Although a press statement notes that he will stay on as a scientific advisor.)
Axovant announced that Pavan Cheruvu, a physician and former McKinsey & Company consultant, has been tapped to take over for Hung as CEO of Axovant.
As for the future of Axovant itself; Ramaswamy said a decision on the direction of that company will be coming. He didn't rule out Alzheimer's disease as a focus, but stressed that Axovant has been tasked with developing drugs in the broad area of central nervous system disorders.
"While we have not commented yet on the future strategy of the company – that's going to be in coming months – it's fair to say that we will not be going after 5HT6 receptor antagonism for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease," he said.
Despite the major rise and fall of Axovant, Ramaswamy did not seem deterred, and continues to firmly believe in the mission of his family of companies.
"The main reason only a small number [of compounds] go on to late-stage development is because they fail. But a secondary reason a number of drugs don’t go on to late-stage development does not necessarily have to do with the attributes of that molecule, but because drug discovery does not necessarily the strategic mandate or commercial direction of the company that happens to discover a given drug. In my view that was one of the gaps that needed to be filled," he added.