JPM24: Roivant’s Matt Gline has ‘pangs of regret’ for letting Telavant go, but he's ready to deal again

Sometimes, you have to act while the tea is hot. For Roivant CEO Matt Gline, that meant dealing out Telavant to Roche for $7.1 billion last year, even if he wasn’t quite ready to let the vant company go.

“We weren't looking for an opportunity to sell a program last year,” Gline told Fierce Biotech on the sidelines of the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference Wednesday. “I was just talking to one of my colleagues about the pangs of regret for having sold it, even at that price, just because of how great the opportunity was,” he said.

“But, you know, we are a biotech company. We're capital-constrained other than through doing deals like that, and it was a transformative opportunity for us.”

The reasons for Gline’s regret stem from the fact that this wasn’t just any asset. Roivant partnered with Pfizer to form a new inflammatory- and fibrotic-diseases-focused company centered around the Big Pharma’s TL1A directed antibody, dubbed RVT-3101, in December 2022.

A month later, the companies shared phase 2b data showing that RVT-3101 induced remission in 32% of patients with inflammatory bowel disease, compared to 12% in the placebo arm.

And then in October, Roche swooped in with a $7.1 billion offer to buy the vant and take the baton. The deal was almost a pharma-to-pharma transfer, with Roivant acting in the middle.

headshot of Roivant CEO Matt Gline
Matt Gline (Roivant)

“Pharma companies don't often work together,” Gline said. But sometimes, decisions are made at these larger companies to de-prioritize programs and a company like Roivant takes it on, runs a trial, and ultimately the program can end up in the hands of a completely different Big Pharma in the end.

“The thing that was unusual about this was the rapidity of it. The fact that we had in-licensed the program from Pfizer only a little bit over a year ago, then we transacted with Roche less than a year later—that was unusual and not something that I necessarily expect to see again,” Gline said. “Biotech is an industry with lots of twists and turns and so things take a complicated path through the field.”

Dealing RVT-3101 to Roivant in the first place was part of an ongoing overhaul at Pfizer. Gline said the company is “undergoing seismic shifts” coming off an incredible wave of success with its COVID-19 programs. The vaccine and antibody programs helped develop plenty of capital for the New York-based Big Pharma, shaping its next decade.

“But they needed to do reprioritization. And we thought TL1A was a great opportunity and it was one that we were happy to pursue for a decade if we had to or wanted to and we brought it on with that in mind and quickly got to working on studies,” Gline said.

What lit the fire under Roche was data from Prometheus Biosciences and then Roivant, which validated the TL1A target. Merck & Co. quickly snapped up Prometheus for $10.8 billion in April 2023.

“A lot heated up very quickly, much quicker than we expected. The kindling that ignited that turned into a bigger fire and that's where the Roche partnership was born,” Gline said.

Either way, the Roivant partnership was a lucrative one for Pfizer. The company pocketed billions in the Roche sale and Gline said they would have even if Roivant had taken the drug all the way.

So can Roivant ever repeat this kind of success? Gline doesn’t think he’ll ever see a deal play out exactly like this. But the company has another vant that’s been drawing plenty of interest: Immunovant. The company just posted phase 2 data for batoclimab in Graves' disease showing a response rate exceeding 50%. 

While Roivant has no plans for a large transformative deal this year, Telavant was unexpected too.

“Lightning in a bottle happens rarely in this industry but we caught it twice,” Gline said. “It is a subject of widespread speculation whether some kind of M&A outcome for Immunovant is on the table. And I'll just say, it's a great target and we are confident of quite a lot of Big Pharma interest in it.”

He continued: “I would say I have not been in a meeting at J.P. Morgan, where it has not come up.”

Roivant doesn’t have to deal Immunovant at all, Gline noted. The Telavant sale left the company with $7 billion on the balance sheet. He arrived at J.P. Morgan to many questions about how he will spend that cash and a goal to find Roivant’s next partnerships.

Gline said the company has been meeting with “everyone we can, Big Pharma, small biotech and everything in between.” The focus is on late-stage clinical programs but the company is agnostic to therapeutic area. He also would not say no to an early-stage bet if the right science is behind it.

“It's a moment of great opportunity for us, not just because of capital, but because biotechs obviously had a rough year … there's a lot of struggling biotech companies that need partners,” he said.

“Big Pharma is undergoing seismic shifts in strategy for various reasons and that creates opportunity where we can help them to facilitate portfolio transformation,” Gline added. “So there's just a lot of possibility.”