Roche executive jumps ship to Ramaswamy’s Genevant, joining fellow former Big Pharma veteran

Despite a few noticeable high-profile blow-ups and departures from the Vant constellation of biotechs recently, Vivek Ramaswamy is still able to lure the big guns to his startups.

The latest is Margrit Schwarz, Ph.D., MBA, former VP and global head, external innovation at Swiss major Roche, who now joins Genevant as its new chief of R&D and CSO.

Genevant is one of the latest "vants" from Ramaswamy, with parent company Roivant and Arbutus back in April pooling their resources to create the RNA-focused biotech.

It began life with RNA delivery technology from Arbutus, $37.5 million in seed funding from Roivant, and plans to take five to 10 programs into the clinic by 2020.

The Canadian RNA player granted Genevant an exclusive license to its lipid nanoparticle and ligand conjugate delivery platforms outside of hepatitis B. Alnylam encapsulated its pioneering RNA drug patisiran, since approved, using the lipid nanoparticle platform.

In keeping with Roivant’s other startups such as Axovant and Dermavant, Genevant started out with an experienced management team.

Paris Panayiotopoulos, then fresh from leading Ariad to a $5.2 billion buyout, took up the executive chairman post while Bo Rode Hansen, Ph.D., a fellow former Roche executive who had been working on RNA therapeutics at the Big Pharma, took the helm. Schwarz now beefs up its scientific credentials.

“I welcome Margrit […] to the Genevant team as we work to bring our diverse pipeline of nucleic acid-based drug candidates to patients," Hansen said.

Roivant has previously said it wants to see Genevant take at least five drugs into human testing by 2020 and is willing to add to its initial investment to make it happen.

The announcement comes at the start of the J.P Morgan (JPM) healthcare conference 2019 in San Francisco, where the biopharma world comes together to share data, updates and deals, of which there have already been some big ones (see Lilly’s buying of Loxo Oncology, and Bristol-Myers snapping up Celgene).

RELATED: Hung out to dry? Axovant’s terrible JPM week

Last year, however, Roivant had a terrible JPM, when its CNS biotech Axovant imploded after major failures and setbacks in Alzheimer’s and other CNS areas, as well as a dodgy press release, eventually seeing its once star CEO David Hung—who sold Medivation to Pfizer for $14 billion—leave and hitting the reset button on its entire pipeline.

RELATED: Agios crowns Celgene veteran Jackie Fouse CEO to spearhead leukemia drug launches

Back in September, Jackie Fouse, former Celgene chair and COO, a major get for Ramaswamy, suddenly left her role as executive chair of Dermavant, Roivant’s dermatology biotech, after around 18 months to become chief at cancer biotech Agios.

And back in the summer of 2018, Roivant also laid off some staff and reassigned others to subsidiaries in a notable strategic shift. The changes saw Roivant shed around 10% of its staff and cede responsibility for others to the heads of its portfolio of startups.

Editor's note: The article has been corrected to state that Margrit Schwarz is the CSO of Genevant, not it's CMO, as previously stated. We apologize for the error.