AstraZeneca spins out new firm Viela Bio

AstraZeneca’s biologics research and development arm MedImmune has spun out six molecules from its early-stage inflammation and autoimmunity programmes into new independent biotech company called Viela Bio. The new company will focus on the development of medicines for severe autoimmune diseases by targeting the underlying causes of each disease, starting with three preclinical and three clinical programmes.

Lead programme inebilizumab, an anti-CD19 monoclonal antibody, is currently in Phase II development for the treatment of neuromyelitis optica, a rare condition that affects the optic nerve and spinal cord in approximately five in 100,000 people, and carries orphan status on both sides of the Atlantic. Also included are the Phase I projects MEDI4920, an anti-CD40L-Tn3 fusion protein being developed for primary Sjögren’s syndrome, and MEDI7734, an anti-ILT7 monoclonal antibody in development for myositis.

“By establishing Viela Bio, we are creating an optimal environment for the continued development of our promising early-stage biologics portfolio in inflammation and autoimmunity,” said Bahija Jallal, president of MedImmune and executive vice president of AZ. “This has the potential to bring the most benefit to patients and will allow us to maintain focus on our three main therapy areas.”

Bing Yao, currently head of MedImmune’s Respiratory, Inflammation & Autoimmunity (RIA) Innovative Medicines unit, will head up Viela Bio at its base in Gaithersburg, Maryland, while Jorn Drappa, currently vice president of RIA Clinical Development at MedImmune, has been appointed head of R&D and chief medical officer at the firm.

The firm is backed by an investment of up to $250 million from a consortium of investors led by Boyu Capital, 6 Dimensions Capital, and Hillhouse Capital. AZ will remain the largest minority shareholder of Viela Bio.