As former biotech leader Vivek Ramaswamy jumps in the presidential polls, what does he say for the life sciences brand?

For those of us old enough to remember Vivek Ramaswamy as the founder of Roivant and its continuously expanding group of biotech subsidiaries, his presidential campaign at the age of 38 came as a significant shift in his career trajectory.

Ramaswamy seems to be positioning himself politically between former President Donald Trump, currently leading the polls as the potential Republican candidate for the 2024 election, and struggling Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. DeSantis had previously centered his campaign around an "anti-woke" platform, but, following the dismissal of much of his team, he appears to be attempting a minor reset.

Outside the life sciences world, Ramaswamy, who was born in Ohio to immigrant parents from India and earned a biology degree from Harvard University and then finished Yale Law School, was something of an unknown and for months polled poorly. However, he has jumped in the polls this summer. 

While Trump remains the front-runner, Ramaswamy has surpassed former Vice President Mike Pence and is now in contention with DeSantis for the second position. Some are even considering him as a potential vice presidential candidate, although it seems he's not inclined toward that role.  

His political strategy involves appealing to Trump supporters while delicately avoiding direct criticism of Trump in his speeches, unlike Pence and, to a lesser extent, DeSantis. While Trump rallies around the slogan "MAGA" (Make America Great Again), Ramaswamy rallies around the concept of "TRUTH," a slogan prominently displayed at his numerous speeches.

Ramaswamy is in many ways a traditional Republican, wary of government as a force in society, and is also “anti-woke” and against most environmental, social and corporate governance policies, especially those that restrict economic growth.

However, he also leans outside of its traditional boundaries: At 38, he’s the youngest Republican candidate for president and much younger than the 77-year-old Trump and the 80-year-old President Joe Biden. He has proposed raising the voting age to 25 for the majority of U.S. voters and advocates for significant reductions in the federal workforce. Additionally, he aims to make substantial cuts to institutions such as the FBI and the Education Department.

Perhaps strangely given his background, he initially talked very little about the pharmaceutical industry or the FDA, but that changed last month. In a video posted to X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, he said he would look to “gut” the FDA, which he referred to as being "corrupt." 

“Countless FDA regulations and actions are hypocritical, harmful & unconstitutional. I will rescind them accordingly," he wrote in a recent post on X. "For years I was coached by industry veterans not to speak out against FDA. It’s well known that if you anger FDA, they will punish you by blackballing review of your drug review applications. 'FDA never forgets' is a quietly-whispered, well-known pharma industry adage. Well, they could only shut me up for so long. Now I speak freely as a citizen.”

His financial success predominantly comes from his Roivant biotech business. The core idea behind the Roivant clusters was buying up old pharma castoffs and either retrying in the clinic or tweaking into a new area not tried before. Many of Roivant’s companies were eventually sold off with some having to pivot after major flops, with Axovant the most prominent in the failure department, having to become a gene therapy company after its leading Alzheimer’s disease hopeful failed to make the grade in a key trial.

Others had better fortunes, such as Myovant, which along with partner Pfizer got a recent FDA nod for its menstrual bleeding drug Myfembree. 

While not the most innovative founder and biotech leader in terms of the science of his companies, Ramaswamy was good at attracting genuine management talent, and, most importantly, cash.

This is likely to work in his favor for his run as the Republican nominee. The likelihood of him surpassing Trump's lead is currently quite low. Being a first-time candidate with no prior public office experience puts him at a disadvantage against a former president who still maintains a highly loyal base of supporters.