Picture this: on its cover, a global business magazine features a close-up head-shot of a 30-year-old male. He's of Indian descent, with an American upbringing and education, and he's just concocted a multi-million dollar business out of "thin air." He's lauded for his vision, his savvy, and his striking intelligence with things both financial and technical.
Now picture this: he's thousands of miles from Silicon Valley. He hasn't created an app, and he's not selling the next-big-thing to Millennials in San Francisco or Shanghai.
Vivek Ramaswamy is in biotech, and a company he's just spun out, Axovant Sciences, is developing a potential medicine for Alzheimer's disease -- a disease that affects the old and app-less. By all counts, Vivek and Axovant are the antitheses of California Cool -- and they're light-years ahead of the there's-an-app-for-that herd.
They've just shepherded the largest biotech IPO to date. And they did it with a company that has only one medication in development -- and that medication is for Alzheimer's Disease, where we have seen an incredible 99 percent of drugs fail in development stages.
Yet what makes this story more remarkable is that the drug that Axovant is developing, they picked up from another company's failed medicine pipeline. How could this potential winning therapy be sitting in limbo? Through some inscrutable concoction of regulatory hell, quarterly earnings pressure, and other mazes that make up big pharma.
Add it all up and that's the reason that many are insisting that this IPO reveals financial lunacy and points to an about-to-pop biotech bubble.
What Vivek and Axovant's stunning and innovative risk-taking illustrates is that, in this aging world, there's unbelievable demand for innovative medicines. As upwards of 30 percent of the population passes 60 in most G20 countries -- and as less developed nations torpedo ahead and will soon become as old as those of us in Europe, Japan and the U.S. -- the demand for age-related medications sets the stage for pretty good strategy.
So ignore the naysayers and financial guffawers. This is a tremendous story.
On one hand, there's Axovant -- a company that, unlike any other before it, is going all in to beat one of the toughest diseases out there. Many investors call Alzheimer's a financial black hole, and we've seen plenty of Big Pharma pull out as medicines fail to make it through the regulatory traps. This is terrible news for those tens of millions affected by the disease - as well as the rest of us who will have to pay for those afflicted.
So we shouldn't snub Axovant -- we should applaud it. Let's not vilify them for their early financial success, as street-watchers and self-proclaimed financial wizards are wont to do. Axovant is putting all its chips on a disease that will become the social, political, and fiscal sinkhole of the 21st century if we don't find ways to better treat and prevent it.
Already, 46.8 million people are estimated to live with dementia, and that number "will almost double every 20 years," according to estimates by Alzheimer's Disease International. Five years ago, Alzheimer's was estimated to consume 1 percent of global GDP. If we want to talk about the finances of Alzheimer's, surely these figures are more alarming than Axovant's IPO.
The other key element to this story is Mr. Ramaswamy himself. A technical wizard and a financial genius, Vivek didn't turn to the Valley -- but to pharma.
And it's a revealing life decision -- one that has put him at the most important intersection of the 21st century: health, aging, and pharmaceuticals. For all the promise of a "smart" world, we must be first be healthy to enjoy it.
But Mr. Ramaswamy story also shows that, as one must anticipate living to or beyond 100, he's getting it right. In discussions of "population aging," the focus tends to fall on the elderly. This is wrong.
Aging is about twenty-somethings just as must as seventy-somethings. It's about crafting a ten-decade life course.
In this era of the "miracle of longevity," young people ought focus on three things: health, financial security, and ongoing education. Mr. Ramaswamy is firing on all cylinders.
With life expectancy stretching into the 80s by routine, and with one in every two-and-a-half people subject to dementia after the age 85, Alzheimer's disease should be at the top of all our lists -- whether in the financial analysis or the social value world.
Dr. Peter Piot, who led the UN's fight against HIV/AIDS, has called Alzheimer's the "ticking time bomb." Now is not the time to rail against whatever financial incentives entice our best and brightest to beat it.