Boy Wonder Ramaswamy's Roivant Bets $116 Million on Arbutus

Published: Oct 03, 2017

Boy Wonder Ramaswamy's Roivant Bets $116 Million on Arbutus October 2, 2017
By Alex Keown, Breaking News Staff

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Shares of Arbutus Biopharma Corporation shot up this morning after biotech investor Vivek Ramaswamy’s Roivant Sciences upped its stake in the company by $116.4 million to advance that company’s hepatitis B program.

Ramaswamy, who serves as chairman of the Arbutus board of directors, said the investment was spurred on by Arbutus’ advances in developing a treatment for hepatitis B. In a statement, Ramaswamy said he is excited about the progress the company has made and believes its “most exciting days are ahead of it.”

“HBV is one of the most devastating diseases impacting patients globally, and a cure remains elusive. Roivant is proud to support Arbutus in taking on this bold mission through an expanded relationship. We look forward to providing strategic and operational support to Arbutus, while also maximizing the value of Arbutus’ other assets, including through potential additional investment where required,” Ramaswamy said.

Mark Murray, president and chief executive officer of Arbutus, said the infusion of $116 million will “meaningfully extend” the company’s operating ability. Ramaswamy’s Roivant is the largest shareholder in Arbutus. The company increased its stake in Arbutus by buying $116 million worth of shares at $7.13. Prices closed Friday at $6.30 per share. This morning the stock is trading at $6.94 as of 10:40 a.m.

As part of the deal, Roivant and Arbutus will work together to leverage Roivant’s infrastructure to accelerate more efficient development of Arbutus’ HBV drug pipeline. Last month, the company announced topline results from a Phase II trial of RNAi agent, ARB-1467 in the treatment of HBV. Data shows 12 patients in the fourth cohort saw reductions in serum HBsAg levels, greater than cohorts 1 to 3.

Additionally, the combination of the company’s programs will allow Arbutus to “expand its geographic footprint in HBV drug development.” In addition to HBV programs, the combination will allow Arbutus to grow its other pipeline programs, including Arbutus’ LNP and GalNAc platforms for the delivery of novel therapeutic modalities including RNA interference, mRNA, and gene editing technologies.

In September, Arbutus announced its LNP platform licensed by Cambridge, Mass.-based Alnylam Pharmaceuticals met endpoints in a Phase III study of that company’s RNAi therapeutic patisiran for the treatment of patients with hereditary ATTR amyloidosis with polyneuropathy.

Ramaswamy’s investment in Arbutus was announced shortly after his company Axovant flunked a Phase III trial to treat Alzheimer’s disease. Axovant acquired interperdine (RVT-101), a 5-HT6 receptor antagonist, from GlaxoSmithKline after that company gave up on it following multiple trial failures. Ramaswamy has made a name for acquiring cast-off drugs and make an attempt to successfully develop them into marketable products. Phase IIb data was promising for interperdine, but in the Phase III trial it “failed to show any improvement in cognition or in measures of activities of daily living at 24 weeks.”

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