A former healthcare analyst, Apurva Saraf once dug into biotech valuations, investment theses and corporate strategies. But eventually, he wanted to do more than ask tough questions and move stock prices — he aspired to use his skills to run a biotech.
Saraf transitioned to the operations side of the industry, and eventually he stepped into his current role as president and CEO of Cosette Pharmaceuticals. Now, under Saraf’s leadership, the privately held company is embarking on a major business pivot that will test how well Saraf can apply his outsider’s perspective in a real-world setting.
This year, Cosette bought the U.S. rights to several well-known cardiovascular drugs, a big shift for a 400-employee company that specializes in topical creams and ointments.
Saraf weighed in on transactions like this one as an equity analyst at UBS, J.P. Morgan and Credit Suisse covering specialty and generic drugmakers. But Saraf, whose family comprises five generations of doctors and pharmacists, realized that he wanted to directly shape a biotech rather than evaluate from afar.
“I want to see tablets and capsules come off the line,” Saraf says. “I realized this is my calling.”
More than spreadsheets
In many ways, his time as an analyst prepared him for the executive suite. Saraf can quickly size up a company’s strengths and weaknesses relative to the competitive landscape while parsing financials. He drew on this experience to diversify Cosette’s cash flow streams.
Cosette in January acquired the U.S. sales and distribution rights to eight cardiovascular drugs for undisclosed terms. Daiichi Sankyo had divested the programs as part of a shift to oncology, the Japanese drugmaker said in a news release.
But in pivoting from analyst to business operations, Saraf learned earlier in his career that there’s a difference between evaluating ideas and executing them.
“I came out saying, ‘Yeah, I know everything that matters because I can put stuff in a spreadsheet.’ And the reality couldn’t be more different,” Saraf says.
His analyst-turned-executive path isn’t unheard of: Neurogene and Viking Therapeutics are also led by former analysts. Saraf, though, didn’t immediately jump from analyst to CEO. He was the associate director of business development at Ranbaxy, an Indian pharmaceutical that was acquired in 2014. Before Cosette, he was also the senior vice president of global strategy and corporate development at Amneal Pharmaceuticals, where Saraf shaped deals that resemble Cosette’s latest acquisition.
U.S. sales for the acquired Daiichi Sankyo products — such as the blood pressure medication Benicar and the cholesterol treatment Welchol — totaled about $123 million over a year-long period that ended November 2021, according to IQVIA, a pharmaceutical consulting firm. These drugs face generic competition.
Saraf said “innovation possibilities” exist for three of the products, like converting a tablet into a liquid for added palatability in long-term care facilities or emergency rooms. He declined to elaborate further at this stage.
On the upswing
Besides the Daiichi Sankyo deal, Cosette in February launched a generic version of Compazine, a medication used to control nausea and vomiting. Alongside generics, the company produces creams, ointments and suppositories for drug wholesalers, retail chains, food stores, mail order pharmacies and long-term care pharmacies.
Meanwhile, the company has a research and development division that’s working on products in women’s health, gastrointestinal and topical indications. Cosette annually spends more than 15% of net revenue on R&D, the company says.
To keep disparate parts of the business running smoothly, Saraf said he relentlessly tracks targets and is building out a team in the generics division.
Cosette came together when Avista Capital Partners in 2018 bought G&W Laboratories’ topical and dermatology portfolio. Saraf, who took the helm in 2020, said Cosette has undergone a culture change that helped bring in talent from top pharmaceuticals.
Under Saraf’s leadership, Cosette reported “a material positive change” in financial metrics like revenue, gross profit, cash flow from operations and earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA).
“We've had some outstanding results in the last 24 months that I've been here,” Saraf said. “And I think those results have come about from a change of culture, a change in perspective.”
While he fondly looks back on his time as an analyst, he doesn’t miss being buried in spreadsheets.
“That was great,” Saraf said. “But this is better.”