San Diego Osman Kibar is nonchalant, as billionaires go, but he’s nothing if not confident. Dressed in a fading polo shirt and old jeans, he leans back in his chair, intertwines his fingers and fights a knowing smile. He knows why I’m here.
Kibar, 45, is founder and CEO of Samumed LLC, a stealthy biotechnology firm that until a few months ago had been flying under the radar in San Diego. Following eight years of research, the company recently decided to step into the limelight, disclosing its story exclusively to longtime biotech reporter Matthew Herper at Forbes.
Samumed intends to reverse the aging process, and its drug programs are already underway. The company has successfully grown hair on bald men, regenerated cartilage in arthritic joints, and the technology may one day erase wrinkles on aging skin. Recently valued at $12 billion, the biggest valuation in history for a drugmaker with no approved drug on the market, Samumed might be onto something.
As Herper put it, the San Diego firm is “the most valuable biotechnology startup on the planet.” If, of course, the science pans out.
11 Drug Programs
Aside from the shiny new placard recently affixed to the building’s exterior, there’s hardly a sign the company has been operating in San Diego for the last decade. Inside the building, the walls are sparsely decorated, and the cubicles are empty. The labs, however, are bustling.
Samumed is researching 11 drug programs with its technology, five of which are already being tested in humans. This is rather impressive for a biotech firm, considering most local biotechs are what the industry calls “one-trick ponies.” These companies generally build one valuable asset until it catches the eye of Big Pharma, then the company sells, the founders and investors cash out, and the employees move on to the next whiz bang startup.
But Samumed has a different strategy, Kibar said.
“We’re sitting on a goldmine, and this is only the tip of the iceberg,” Kibar said. “If our strategy was to sell, no one could afford us.”
The assertion might seem arrogant, and perhaps it is. But Samumed’s investors tend to agree with Kibar. The company has raised $220 million since its inception (with another $100 million in the works), with investors including IKEA’s private venture firm, anonymous high-net-worth individuals and a single venture capital firm called Vickers Venture Partners.
A quick review of Samumed’s investors might throw a red flag to those familiar with the biotech scene. The biggest investors are a furniture company and a venture firm with no history of drug discovery investments. How could they recognize a valuable investment when they saw one?