The billionaire doctor duo behind President Trump’s experimental drug

President Trump is receiving experimental treatment from Regeneron, a pharma firm defined by the partnership between two doctors.


October 5, 2020

Photo by Victor Hugo/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

There are no treatments approved for COVID-19, but President Trump was given an experimental antibody cocktail late last week, under the FDA’s compassionate use clearance.

The drug is manufactured by Regeneron, a New York-based company whose CEO has known Mr. Trump for years, The New York Times reports.

“All I can say is that [the White House] asked… and we were happy to oblige,” Dr. Leonard S. Schleifer, Regeneron’s co-founder and CEO, told the Times.

A doctor spies a market opportunity

Regeneron’s story starts in 1988.

According to Forbes, Schleifer completed his MD and PhD degrees and was working as a neurology professor at Weill Cornell Medical College when he took an entrepreneurial turn.

After seeing the success of biotech firm Genentech, Schleifer convinced venture investors from Merrill Lynch to put up $1m to support his startup that would do research on diseases of the nervous system.

Schleifer then went out to convince a partner to join him. That man was George Yancopoulos, another MD/PhD who became Regeneron’s chief scientific officer.

A prolific partnership

Schleifer and Yancopoulos actually grew up on the same street in Queens, NY, but had never met.

As business partners, Schleifer was the dealmaker who gave Yancopoulos the resources and space to do research… and research he did.

Forbes describes Yancopoulos as one of the “most prolific drug hunters of his generation.” One notable edge was Regeneron’s drug development platform; while other pharma firms typically spend billions to get a drug to market, Regeneron had a track record of doing it in the hundreds of millions. 

Yancopoulos (L), Schleifer (R) (Source: Forbes)

But Regeneron’s first blockbuster drug would take decades

Eylea, an injectable eye treatment to prevent macular degeneration (AKA vision impairment), hit markets in the early-2010s.

In 2019, Eylea posted US sales of $4.6B, equivalent to 58% of Regeneron’s total sales. Eylea is now one of the world’s top-selling prescription drugs and the anchor of Regeneron’s current $60B market value.

Based on their Regeneron stakes, Shleifer and Yancopoulos are now worth $2.3B and $1.3B, respectively.

Is the COVID-19 cocktail next?

According to the NYT, Regeneron’s antibody treatment “hastened recovery time” of a small number of volunteers in its ongoing study.

Much more testing will have to take place before the FDA deems the cocktail safe for wider use.

The success (or failure) of this treatment will define the next chapter for this accomplished doctor duo.

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