The modern-day Bonnie and Clyde, with no shots fired, no blood spilled and way more booty. The two of them just put together an ethically questionable deal in the pharmaceutical game. My opinion but, apparently, shared by others.
Just to make an introduction, Wayne Holman is CEO of Ridgeback Capital, a Wall-Street investment firm. His wife, Wendy is the founder of Ridgeback Biotherapeutics. What’ll you bet the dog they own is a Rhodesian Ridgeback?
No skin in the game
According to the Washington Post,
Ridgeback Biotherapeutics had no laboratories, no manufacturing facility of its own and a minimal track record when it struck a deal in March with Emory University to license an experimental coronavirus pill invented by university researchers with $16 million in grants from U.S. taxpayers.
But what the tiny Miami company did have was a growing team with experience in pharmaceutical development and research and a willingness from its wealthy owners — chief executive Wendy Holman and her husband, hedge fund manager Wayne Holman — to place a bet on the treatment in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. That wager paid off with extraordinary speed in May when, just two months after acquiring the antiviral therapy called EIDD-2801 from Emory, Ridgeback sold exclusive worldwide rights to drug giant Merck.
Exclusive worldwide rights
I would guess the powers-that-be at Emory University would have some explaining to do. Or perhaps our government will clue us in on their grant-processes that give away your and my tax money and require nothing in return.
A back-alley armed robbery is against the law but, apparently, slippery investment vehicles are pretty much okay. An investment-vehicle is just another description of a getaway car.
When in doubt, call a committee meeting to clear up the entire matter in a year or two. According to Emory, Ridgeback Biotherapeutics will be responsible for advancing this promising therapeutic through clinical development and ensuring that EIDD-2801 is available during the current pandemic. Ridgeback is not going to advance a damned thing, other than Wayne and Wendy’s personal fortunes. They lateraled the ball to Merck to do the heavy lifting. All of it accomplished at dizzying speed. From sweet-talking Emory into giving them a license, to signing-on Merck, it all happened within 2 ½ months.
So, if I understand this correctly, the Wayne and Wendy team—with no manufacturing facility and minimal experience—are simply conduits. A conduit is defined as “a passage (a pipe or tunnel) through which water or electric wires can pass” and, apparently, billions of dollars of pharmaceuticals as well.
In an interview with The Post on April 15, before the controversy erupted, Wayne Holman talked up the drug and made it clear that Ridgeback would be seeking partnerships and investment from the private sector.
“Treating orally and early can change the course of this pandemic. Not only would it treat the person that is sick, but it should theoretically reduce the infectiousness of that person, and the time period they are infectious to others,” he said. “We have inbound interest from pharma companies.”
It’s so exciting to be in the delivery-room during the birth of yet another hedge-fund.
As the Washington Post rather delicately explains,
Demands are increasing in Congress and around the world that drug companies set affordable prices on coronavirus treatments and vaccines and distribute them equitably. Yet the role of middlemen like Ridgeback puts pressure on companies to increase prices, by adding extra costs. It also raises questions about who is financially benefiting by securing monopoly licensing rights to publicly financed inventions. Another of life’s endless examples that, “it ain’t what you know, it’s who you know.” To which I might add ‘and how quickly you call a meeting.’ This had all the speed and alacrity of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers signing Tom Brady. Just not as much fun and no Super-Bowl ring.
Image Credit: Financial Times