Osman Kibar, today an engineer with a personal net worth of $3 billion, was born in Izmir, Turkey in 1974. His grandfather, Osman “Asphalt” Kibar first emigrated to Izmir in 1909 from the city of Thessaloniki, which was then a part of the Ottoman Empire but is now governed by Greece. Following his education, grandad Kibar began his business life in 1930, trading in olive oil, soap and glycerin.
Voyaging into politics, Kibar later served as the democratically elected Mayor of Izmir from 1963 to 1973. According to the Turkish publication, Yeni Assir, he earned his nickname “asphalt” because of all the roads he had paved throughout the city and region. At the time, Izmir required new highways as an influx of citizens migrating from the countryside plagued living conditions in the beach-front metropolis.
“Traffic and pollution are growing; water and electricity are getting more scarce,” said a 1975 article by the New York Times. “They come to the cities because the land no longer supports them and the old roads no longer inhibit them, because schools are teaching them to read and television is teaching them to rebel.”
“The curse of the 20th century is communications and newspapers,” former Mayor, Osman Kibar, told the NYT. “People cannot wait half a century to attain what they see in the pictures. We are becoming America—rush, rush, rush.”
The Smart Kid
Izmir is a city on Turkey’s Aegean coast. Known as Smyrna in antiquity, it was founded by the Greeks, taken over by the Romans and rebuilt by Alexander the Great before becoming part of the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century. Today, the municipality is recognized as the third-largest city in the country, hosting a population of nearly 3 million!
Grandad Osman’s son, Seli Kibar, studied business and economics in Germany before taking on influential positions in the family’s international businesses. Which brings us to the primary subject of our story, one of his children whom he gave his father’s name, Osman Kibar.
After scoring in the top 0.2 percent of students who took Turkey’s national standardized test, at age 11, young Osman was sent to attend secondary school at Robert College; an American educational institution established in Istanbul. While there, he made some lifelong friends who will come to play crucial roles as this story unfolds.
In order to receive his higher education, Osman moved to the United States when he was just 17 years old. He explains that while all his other classmates were looking at university rankings, the way he chose where to go was based on a weather map of the North American continent. After discovering the temperate Mediterranean-Esque climate of Southern California, he determined, “Okay, that’s where I’m going!”
Kibar earned his first Bachelor of Arts/Science in 1991 from Pomona College, a private liberal arts college that offers undergraduate degrees. Afterward, he pursued and earned an engineering degree from the California Institute of Technology. Having moved to the opposite side of the planet, he found adapting to life in Southern California easier than he thought it’d be.
“When I started college, it was probably one of the smoothest cultural transitions experienced among my [Turkish] friends – I never experienced a culture shock,” Kibar said while also taking the time to add, “I joined a fraternity when I didn’t even know what a fraternity was! My friends came into my room one day saying ‘let’s rush,’ I said ‘okay’ and we did it.”
He got involved with intramural sports as well, making his way onto a soccer team. Although, from time to time, some of his friends had a football team that needed him to kick field goals for them. Osman describes how bad they were at football, “as a team, we were academically the best in our league but physically the worst. We would lose every game by huge margins!”
One day he went to one of his friends on the football team and asked, “why do you do this? Why do you keep getting on that field and embarrassing yourself? What’s the point?” To which his American friend sternly responded, “we may be small, but we’re slow too.”
“I thought about that,” says Osman. “This lack of fear of failure…the point is not what your strengths are to win, but rather, the lack of hesitation to get out there and do your best. Looking back, I find that one of the most admirable traits of the American culture.”
The Career of Osman Kibar
Kibar’s work career is very unique, as he was pursuing his Master of Science and Ph.D. from the University of California, San Diego (which he received in 1999), he played a role in founding two companies.
While in grad school Osman Kibar became the scientific founder of cancer diagnostics company, Genoptix, which was sold to Novartis for $470 million in 2011.
“I helped invent the product but when we went and found venture capital, at their suggestion, we implemented a team to take over the management. I was just the owner and the inventor. I never joined the management,” he told Turkish business magazine, Capital.
He also cofounded E-Tenna, which made antennas for the wireless industry. The business eventually got split up and sold to Intel and Titan Corp. Again, he didn’t hold a management role in either branch of the company.
Kibar blames those start-up experiences for piquing his interest in the venture capital industry. “That’s when I got the bug,” he said to Fierce Biotech in an interview. “I decided to move to New York and joined a private equity fund.”
Showing up in the big apple just before 9/11, Osman wound up in a salaried position managing a fund of $4-5 billion dollars; because it was an investment firm, he was given a small partnership in the company.
One bright side about moving to New York was that Osman could be closer to his boyhood friends from Robert College. “They met for weekly basketball games,” says Forbes. “But as careers took off and families got started, the games slowed, and Kibar grew disenchanted with his role at Pequot”
“The amount of money we were managing on the private side was large, so we couldn’t move to earlier, seed-stage deals. We had to move to later-stage deals. One morning, I woke up, I was an investment banker,” Osman said. “We had very little to do with technology.”
Human Machine Interface
He left Pequot Capital in 2003 to launch another company that experimented with Human Machine Interface. “It was not a very important company, because after a while I closed it but this company helped me,” he says. This venture allowed Kibar to further his personal studies and participate in research that economically examined emerging sectors such as technology.
Taking his talents back to Southern California for the sake of decent weather, Osman Kibar arrived in San Diego seeking “a smarter way to access technologies” and launched his own start-up incubator. Being exposed to so many burgeoning projects only accelerated his desire to start another company of his own.
He’d end up spearheading a number of early-stage companies in the incubator world. One of his ventures, Wintherix, found itself housed in a Pfizer building.
“Pfizer provided us with the initial funding, but after that, there was a litigation—and I’m not at liberty to discuss the details—but at the end, we parted ways completely, so Pfizer was out of the picture completely. They don’t have any equity, no technology rights, no IP rights at the end, as of now,” Kibar said.
Forbes reports that things got so tense between Pfizer and the Wintherix team that Osman and his people had to sneak the entire company out of the incubator building over the course of a weekend. One Wintherix employee alone swiped into the building 130 times just to move stuff out.
After the legal dispute between the two entities ended, Kibar renamed his company Samumed.
Recruiting A Few Old Friends
In nothing short of miraculous fashion, Osman Kibar was able to get a number of his best friends from Robert College to get involved with Samumed. One friend, Samikoglu, previously helped him secure $3.5 million for the incubator project he started when first moving to San Diego.
Samikoglu had recently returned home to take care of his mother as she battled cancer. She passed away not long before Kibar called him asking, “What are you doing right now?” To which, Samikoglu responded by explaining his situation, adding that he was trying to invest in Turkey. “Okay, you’re not doing anything,” Kibar told him. “Come help me.”
Considering he was a banker who, following a successful tenure at Goldman Sachs, made partner at $6.3 billion hedge fund, Greywolf Capital, Samikoglu hopped on board as Chief Financial Officer of Samumed. He grew nervous as to the validity of the drugs being developed by the company and reached out to another Robert College alum, a top NYU rheumatologist, Yusuf Yazici, for clarity.
While Samikoglu was on an hour-long call with Kibar, Yazici texted him, “You have to get me in on this. Osman has found the God pill.” Yazici would join as Chief Medical Officer. Another friend of theirs, Arman Oruc, up and moved to San Diego before having negotiated his salary!
Although the companies bank account dropped to $9,000 during its legal dispute with Pfizer, Samumed has never run into problems raising capital. Even more surprisingly, the majority of funding comes from private investment firms and high net-worth individuals.
“I didn’t think the traditional biotech investors would be a good match for us because VCs and PEs, they need to raise their own funds every two to three years. Their timelines are much quicker in terms of arriving at a meaningful exit, whether that exit is an IPO or a partnership with a Big Pharma,” says Kibar.
Despite straying away from powerful hedge funds, Samumed managed to rake in $200 million at a $6 billion valuation in 2016. Another $438 million was received in 2018 upon a $12 billion evaluation; this investment round made it possible for them to move later stage programs to commercialization, as well as expand on their earlier stage science and clinical portfolios.
Due to the size of his stake in Samumed and the company’s multi-billion-dollar valuation, Forbes calculates Osman Kibar carries a personal net worth in the billions.
What Samumed Does
“We focus on developing drugs for various regenerative medicine applications. For example, we have an injection that grows cartilage; we have some lotion that grows hair; another lotion that repairs tendons, so on and so forth,” says Kibar. Keep in mind, all of Samumed’s drugs are still in their developmental phases, meaning that technically, none have been clinically proven to work yet.
Another reason for the incredible enthusiasm regarding the drugs being developed is Samumed’s chief scientific officer and co-founder, John Hood. He’s already invented a cancer treatment that got his previous company, Targegen, bought by Sanofi for $635 million.
Fierce Biotech notes some of Samumed’s objectives below:
“Samumed expects its phase 3 osteoarthritis study to read out by the end of 2020 and hopes to submit lorecivivint for FDA approval in the first quarter of 2021. Its alopecia treatment is close behind, with approval anticipated in late 2021 or early 2022. As for its oncology program, the company aims to start an expansion study in pancreatic cancer this year.”
In may 2020, the company was excited to announce progress with their cartilage drug, Chief Medical Officer, Yusuf Yazici, M.D., made the following statement:
“We are pleased to publish exciting data on lorecivivint for the treatment of knee OA. Limiting structural progression remains an acute unmet medical need for OA patients. Joint space narrowing, suggestive of cartilage loss, is a biomarker of disease progression in knee OA. These Phase 2a data highlight the disease modifying promise of lorecivivint based on its ability to slow joint space narrowing, while durably improving pain and function over one year,”
Osman Kibar & Poker
“Right now I hurt when I run,” says Finian Tan, a Samumed investor at Vickers Venture Partners, “If you can grow one millimeter of cartilage, I’ll go for the jab so long as there are no side effects. I think that if somebody, it doesn’t matter who, can grow cartilage it would be larger than Apple.”
In the end, investors continue pouring money in, to the tune that Kibar, on a number of occasions, has had to halt them. No, his company doesn’t sell a product, it’s developing several; in the meantime, he’s selling opportunity.
Finding similarity with the people making bets on his business, Osman is an excellent poker player. In 2006 he won the first tournament he ever played in; this isn’t your neighborhood garage game either. In 2007 he came in second out of 3,000 players at a tournament run by the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas.
If you enjoyed this story on the life of Osman Kibar, be sure to check out our biography of self-made billionaire, Austin Russell.