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Why SoftBank Made a Record-Breaking $1.1 Billion Bet on This Biotech Firm

August 9, 2017, 6:36 PM UTC
Forbes Under 30 Summit
PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 05: Vivek Ramaswamy, Founder & CEO of Rolvant Sciences speaks at Forbes Under 30 Summit at Pennsylvania Convention Center on October 5, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Lisa Lake/Getty Images)
Lisa Lake — Getty Images

Vivek Ramaswamy is probably having a pretty good birthday.

Roivant Sciences, the audacious company founded and led by the hedge funder-turned-biotech entrepreneur (he turned 32 on Wednesday) has raised an eye-popping $1.1 billion in funding led by SoftBank and joined by other previous Roivant investors.

The investment, orchestrated by SoftBank’s cash-loaded Vision Fund (which has $90 billion-plus on its hands), is the single largest private financing round in health care ever. And it represents a huge bet on a company with a unique business model that has its fair share of skeptics.

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Roivant is essentially a federation of drug making companies, each of which focuses on a different disease area. Each established firm (there are now five of them and even more in the pipeline, Ramaswamy tells Fortune) comes with a “-Vant” suffix: Axovant (Alzheimer’s and neurological conditions); Myovant (women’s health); Dermavant (skin disorders); Enzyvant (rare diseases); and Urovant (urology). Ramaswamy says the company will use the money it’s raised to further extend its reach beyond traditional drug development, including by investing in digital health.

It’s an intriguing divergence from the typical, monolithic big pharma model. But here’s the catch: None of these companies have an approved drug on the market. In fact, none of them have even unveiled data on their experimental treatments so far (although that’s slated to change in the coming months). That’s led to some hype-over-substance critiques, especially since two Roivant firms had blockbuster IPOs even as the umbrella firm’s structure and R&D strategy was essentially just a proof-of-concept.

That “concept” is the other novel aspect. Roivant member companies scoop up drugs that have been abandoned by other firms for one reason or another. Perhaps a treatment just wasn’t the right fit for a company’s pipeline, or a firm decided it would be too expensive to run follow-up clinical trials.

Despite the skepticism, though, Ramaswamy has been able to assemble an impressive cadre of biopharma veterans to lead Roivant’s various firms—part of the reason he made Fortune‘s recent Health Care Leaders list. And those industry vets recently told Fortune that what drew them over was both the promise of the experimental drugs they’re trying to get to market and the flexible corporate structure at Roivant. (Stay tuned for a broader exploration of how the young CEO swayed these heavy-hitters to take a chance on Roivant.)

SoftBank echoed those sentiments on Wednesday. “Roivant has attracted world-class talent in its pursuit of developing and commercializing drugs that target large unmet medical needs,” said Akshay Naheta, managing director of SoftBank Group International, in a statement. “We are impressed with the ambition and track record of the Roivant team and look forward to supporting them in the next step of their journey, as they look to effectively harness technology and leverage big data across all aspects of their business.”