Kenyan immigrant Enoch Kariuki overcame personal challenges to lead two billion-dollar acquisitions

BY Preta Peace Namasaba April 10, 2024 6:55 AM EDT
Enoch Kariuki. Photo credit: Enoch Kariuki

Financial challenges often hinder access to quality education for students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. These constraints are especially exacerbated for learners from developing countries who receive study opportunities abroad. While in Kenya, Enoch Kariuki was accepted to several prestigious American universities that he couldn’t afford to attend even. He ultimately got a full scholarship at an HBCU and was able to continue his education in the US.

Kariuki has since led two billion-dollar acquisitions of biotechnology companies.

Born in Loitokitok, Kenya, Kariuki was surrounded by business while growing up. Although his mother had been forced to leave school after the first grade, she built a wholesaling company and then a beer distributorship. She channeled all the money she earned into her children’s education. Kariuki was motivated to pursue a career in healthcare after he witnessed his aunt’s battle with HIV before she passed away.

“I literally remember this vivacious, full of energy … shriveling away in front of the family’s eyes and us not being able to do much for her. That’s when I started thinking of how healthcare could be a tool for helping people,” Kariuki said about his aunt’s battle with HIV motivated him to pursue a career in healthcare.

He gained admission to one of the premier high schools in Kenya and was later accepted to many prestigious American universities. Unfortunately, Kariuki could not afford to attend even with generous financial aid. It was until Texas Southern University, an HBCU offered him a full scholarship that he was able to study in the US. “That’s how I ended up in Texas. I had no idea where in the world Texas was,” Kariuki said about how he moved to the U.S.

At Texas Southern, Kariuki changed his focus from business to pharmacy when he realized that pharmacy effectively merged both his interests in business and healthcare. He pursued a postdoctoral fellowship at Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS), a large pharma company, in their R&D Strategy and Analytics team upon the recommendation of his professor. BMS was transforming from a diversified healthcare company into one focused more on biopharma which exposed Kariuki to many strategic initiatives. He went on to work as a pharmacist at CVS Caremark, earn an MBA from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College ,and work on Wall Street.

On Wall Street, Kariuki was senior associate at Leerink Partners and associate director at UBS Investment Bank. He advised healthcare companies on equity capital financings, mergers and acquisitions, leveraged buyouts, and recapitalizations at both firms. His unique portfolio as a former practicing pharmacist, large pharma R&D strategist, and investment banker landed him his next job at H.I.G. Capital, a multi-billion dollar private equity fund in Miami. Kariuki’s role on the Life Science Investment Team at H.I.G. required him to draw knowledge from all points of his career in order to evaluate an investment.

He was recruited to join Synthorx, a biotech start-up while at H.I.G. Kariuki initially met with the company to invest on behalf of the investment firm but was brought on as senior vice president in charge of corporate development due to his business and deal-oriented background. When he joined, the company which is pioneering the use of synthetic DNA to target cancer and autoimmune therapies was valued at $75 million. Kariuki led the business development process that culminated in Sanofi acquiring Synthorx for $2.5 billion in 2019.

After Synthorx, Kariuki became CFO at VelosBio, a biotech start-up developing novel, first-in-class cancer therapies targeting ROR1. Nasdaq wrote him a congratulatory message in New York’s Times Square Billboard following his appointment to the American biopharmaceutical giant. VelosBio was acquired by Merck in 2020 for $2.75 billion.

Kariuki then became CEO at Lengo Therapeutics, a biopharmaceutical company developing novel, precision medicines targeting driver mutations in oncology. He was responsible for the entire strategic vision of the company in addition to the execution. Lengo was acquired by Blueprint Medicine in 2021 in a structured deal, including $250 million upfront and up to $215 million in additional potential payments.