Q&A: Ken Song details RayzeBio’s path from Series A to IPO in 3 years

Ken Song almost never got into radiopharmaceuticals. But after back-to-back phone calls from venture capital leaders at Versant and venBio in March 2020, the repeat life sciences CEO took a deep dive into the field, which at that point was outside the radar of most people in drug development.

Those calls worked, and Song would go on to lead RayzeBio, a Phase III oncology company bought by Bristol Myers Squibb in December for $4.1 billion. Blink too quickly, and pieces of the RayzeBio story could easily be missed. The company went from Series A to Series B in three months. Over 90 days, the 120-employee operation also went from IPO to acquisition.

Song spoke with Endpoints News about the biotech’s quick rise, the promise of radiopharmaceuticals, and the down round that would set it up for an IPO when few other biotechs were going public. He has stayed on in an advisory role for Rayze.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

LaHucik: You’ve mentioned having “little appreciation” for radiopharmaceuticals when Aaron Royston reached out to you. That’s a pretty fun origin story.

Song: I had been looking to see what I would do with my next opportunity. I ended up getting a call first from Versant which had introduced the concept of radiopharmaceuticals. When I first heard about it, I was a little bit hesitant to even start doing any due diligence. But then literally the next day, I got a call from Aaron at venBio, who had also asked me about my interest in radiopharmaceuticals.

Had those two events not happened in such close proximity, I’m not sure I would have then spent the next five, six months actually digging in to better understand it. I quickly came to appreciate that this was a modality that had a high probability of working. I was convinced that there would be a really intense, competitive landscape that already existed. As I spent time digging around and realized that there [wasn’t], that caught me by surprise. It caused me to pause a little bit because I was like, “What am I missing here because this makes a ton of sense, and seems to be working, but why isn’t there a lot of activity already in this space?” I think it was a lack of appreciation and perhaps an incorrectly preconceived negative bias against working with radioactivity.

LaHucik: Take me through some of the highlights of building Rayze.

Song: When we started the company, obviously, there was a significant amount of capital that was available. In the span of less than a year, we did three financings, which I would say is a bit atypical. That allowed us early on to invest in our own research and discovery infrastructure, where we built out an R&D center. It also gave us the flexibility to start investing in our own manufacturing capabilities as well — which we felt was going to be a critical piece for the company as we moved forward.

We did a Series D in the fall of 2022, which was the polar opposite of a fundraising environment as compared to 2020 and early 2021. But there was interest in the company from new investors, and we felt that, again, better capitalizing the company to now help fund our clinical development in the face of an uncertain economic environment was the right thing to do. When we did that Series D, we took a down round. Another thing, for us, that we were mindful of, was not to be sensitive to dilution but rather focus on properly capitalizing the company so that it [could] be set up for longer-term success. There were several people around the table, board members and investors alike, who were reluctant for us to be proactive in pursuing a down round for the company, particularly when we still had a relatively strong balance sheet. But I felt quite strongly that it was the right thing to do. Ultimately, I think that Series D did help set us up to have a very successful IPO in the following year.

LaHucik: Did you know it would be the last private round?

Song: By doing that financing, we gave ourselves the optionality or the flexibility to go public whenever we wanted to and be less subject to what was happening in the macroenvironment.