SEC charges biotech co-founders with $60 m fraud

In a parallel action, the US Attorney's Office for the Northern District of California has announced criminal charges against Richman and Apte

The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged Jessica Richman and Zachary Apte, co-founders of uBiome Inc., a San Francisco-based private medical testing company, with defrauding investors out of $60 m by falsely portraying the company as a successful start-up with a proven business model and strong prospects for future growth.

The SEC's complaint alleges that Richman, uBiome's CEO, and Apte, its Chief Scientific Officer, raised the funds from investors by painting a false picture of uBiome as a rapidly growing company, which Richman told investors was "inventing the microbiome industry" and making "products that improve people's lives."

The perpetrators reportedly claimed the company had a strong track record of receiving health insurance reimbursement for clinical tests which could detect microorganisms and assist in diagnosing disease. The complaint alleges these claims were false and misleading because uBiome's purported success in generating revenue depended on duping doctors into ordering unnecessary tests and other improper practices that Richman and Apte directed, which, if discovered, would have led to insurers refusing to reimburse uBiome.

The pair were accused of acting to conceal the improper practices from investors and insurers, including directing uBiome employees to provide insurers with backdated and misleading medical records to substantiate the company's prior claims for reimbursement. The efforts to conceal the practices unravelled, which led to the company suspending its medical test business and entering bankruptcy. According to the complaint, Richman and Apte were each enriched by millions through selling their own uBiome shares during the fraudulent fundraising round.

"We allege that Richman and Apte touted uBiome as a successful and fast-growing biotech pioneer while hiding the fact that the company's purported success depended on deceit," said Erin Schneider, Director of the SEC's San Francisco Regional Office. "Investors are entitled to know the material risks of the companies they are investing in, no matter how transformative those companies claim to be."

The SEC's complaint, filed in federal court in San Francisco, charges Richman and Apte with violating the antifraud provisions of the federal securities laws. The SEC is seeking court orders, including officer and director bars, to prevent both founders from engaging in future fraud, as well as orders requiring them to disgorge their ill-gotten gains from the violations and pay civil penalties.