-This story appeared in the May 10, 2016 issue of Forbes.
Forbes magazine has put the story of a Turkey-born biotech billionaire, Osman Kibar, who has been named the inventor of the “God Pill” along with his company Samumed on its latest cover as one of the top 30 global game changers in the world.
If you Google Osman Kibar’s name you’ll find pictures of him playing poker. It’s not that he was ever a serious player–just that in 2006 he won the first poker tournament he ever played in and then, a year later, came in second out of 3,000 players at a tournament run by the World Series of Poker in Vegas.
“I don’t get this,” he told a friend. “I’m going to enter another tournament just to check this assumption.” So he played one more tournament, won it and then quit. “While I’m playing, it’s you and the other players,” says Kibar. “The cards are irrelevant. [But] when you just stare at cards 12 to 14 hours a day, you get this hangover effect.” He couldn’t think straight for days, he says, so he gave it up. Instead, for fun, he now reads higher-math textbooks and meditates.
Kibar, an engineering Ph.D. who emigrated from Turkey to the U.S. for college, doesn’t need to bet on cards for money. Samumed, the San Diego firm he has been stealthily building for a decade, is the most valuable biotechnology startup on the planet.
Samumed has raised $220 million, and the most recent round of financing valued it at $6 billion. It is halfway through raising another $100 million at a $12 billion valuation. Kibar owns a third of the company, which would give him a net worth of $4 billion.
Samumed is finding it easy to raise huge amounts of cash because it believes it has invented medicines that can reverse aging. Its first drugs are targeted at specific organ systems. One aims to regrow hair in bald men. The same drug may also turn gray hair back to its original color, and a cosmetic version could erase wrinkles. A second drug seeks to regenerate cartilage in arthritic knees. Additional medicines in early human studies aim to repair degenerated discs in the spine, remove scarring in the lungs and treat cancer. After that Samumed will attempt to cure a leading cause of blindness and go after Alzheimer’s. The firm’s focus, disease by disease, symptom by symptom, is to make the cells of aging people regenerate as powerfully as those of a developing fetus.
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It’s exciting but also incredibly speculative. The studies so far indicate that the drugs seem pretty safe, may regrow hair and seem to ease pain and improve function in people with knee arthritis. But it’s crucial to remember that 80% of new drugs that reach this stage of research fail to make it to market. And that valuation? It’s insane. The most valuable publicly traded biotechnology company without approved drugs is worth “just” $6 billion. And at this point everybody in biotechnology worries about investing in the next Theranos, the blood-testing company that private investors valued at $9 billion before the accuracy of its tests was challenged.
So the question is: Has Osman Kibar found a pharmaceutical fountain of youth, or is he simply one of the most talented poker players the world has ever known?
Source:Pharma & Healthcare,Forbes.