Pharma, BioPharma

Axovant hires ex-Medivation CEO as it nears Phase 3 Alzheimer’s readout

Axovant founder and CEO Vivek Ramaswamy has stepped back from the top job, passing the reins to David Hung as the company nears a Phase 3 data readout for its lead Alzheimer’s drug candidate.

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Five months out from a potentially pivotal data readout on its lead candidate for Alzheimer’s disease, Axovant founder Vivek Ramaswamy has taken a step back, handing the reins to highly-experienced biopharma CEO David Hung.

Hung founded Medivation in the early 2000s, leading it through to a $14 billion takeover by Pfizer in 2016. During that time, he helped build a strong cancer pipeline and secured FDA approval for XTANDI (enzalutamide), an oral therapy for metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer (CRPC).

That pipeline and commercialization experience could go a long way at Axovant.

Indeed, Wall Street seemed pleased with the announcement. Axovant shares surged 27 percent on Monday morning following the news.

Ramaswamy, a 31-year-old former hedge fund partner, will retain his seat on the board and continue to lead Roivant Sciences, a holding group that oversees five specialized subsidiaries.

Along with Axovant, the Roivant empire includes Myovant (women’s health and prostate cancer), Dermavant (dermatology), Enzyvant (rare diseases), and most recently Urovant (urology). 

Each is built around old pharmaceutical compounds that were cast aside for strategic reasons, such as a restructuring, a clinical setback, or a lack of funding. With a layer of dust accrued, Roivant has been able to negotiate rights to the compounds at a bargain price.

Ramaswamy famously purchased Axovant’s lead candidate intepirdine from GlaxoSmithKilne for $5 million and a 12.5 percent cut on future sales. The following year, it executed the largest ever biotech IPO, raising $360 million.

While its share price is nearly half that now, the company reportedly finished 2016 with $200 million in cash reserves to power the pivotal year ahead.

Axovant has four candidates in clinical trials, each with a focus Alzheimer’s and dementia. But for now, all eyes are on intepirdine. The drug has been granted special protocol assessment, which means its Phase 3 MINDSET study could serve as the basis for an FDA approval — if the results are positive.

Enrollment for the trial was completed earlier this year, with a data readout expected in late September. A success here could validate Axovant and the wider Roivant network, while also breaking the extraordinary streak of clinical failures in the Alzheimer’s field.

A lot of it is out of Hung’s hands, but his desire to join the team and Axovant’s assertive move to put a new CEO in charge shows a degree of internal confidence in the drug.

Hung also brought three former teammates along for the ride. Marion McCourt, former chief operating 0fficer ar Medivation, will now serve as president and COO of Axovant. Ex-Medivation board members Kathryn (“Kate”) E. Falberg and William Anthony (“Tony”) Vernon, will also join an expanded board as independent directors.

Photo: Caiaimage/Paul Bradbury, Getty Images