AstraZeneca spinout Viela lines up $150M IPO to fund scrap with Alexion

AstraZeneca spinout Viela Bio has filed to raise $150 million in an IPO. The listing would set Viela up to challenge Alexion Pharmaceuticals and Roche for the neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder (NMOSD) market by giving it the means to advance anti-CD19 antibody inebilizumab.

Viela spun out of AstraZeneca with six assets and $250 million early last year. In January, Viela said a pivotal trial of inebilizumab in NMOSD, a rare disease that causes blindness and paralysis, met its primary endpoint. Viela filed for FDA approval earlier this month, positioning it to get the nod to start selling the drug in the U.S. in the first half of next year.

Having pulled in $75 million in series B money in June, Viela had almost $190 million in the bank at the last count. But Viela wants to add around $150 million more from public investors to equip it to go toe-to-toe with larger rivals for the NMOSD market.

Alexion received FDA approval for its rare disease blockbuster Soliris in NMOSD in June. Viela may also face competition from Roche, which revealed a pivotal trial of its Chugai-partnered NMOSD drug met its primary endpoint late last year. The upshot is the estimated 10,000 NMOSD patients in the U.S., who until recently had no approved treatments, may soon have three therapies to choose from.

Viela thinks inebilizumab has characteristics that will make it the first choice for NMOSD patients. The drug is dosed every six months, making it more convenient than Soliris and Roche’s satralizumab, which are administered every two weeks and every month, respectively. However, inebilizumab was associated with a lower reduction in attack risk, 73%, than Alexion’s Soliris, 94%.

Armed with $150 million in IPO funding, Viela wants to put together a small commercial team, with at most 30 clinical sales representatives, to target a pool of up to 300 high-prescribing physicians. The strategy rests on the belief that a small number of medical centers treat 70% of NMOSD patients. 

The rest of the IPO haul will fund development of inebilizumab and other assets. Viela plans to start a phase 2 trial of inebilizumab in kidney transplant desensitization in the second half of 2019, with a pivotal study in myasthenia gravis to follow next year.

Viela has two other clinical-phase assets. VIB4920, a fusion protein that binds to the CD40 ligand, is set to start phase 2 testing in Sjögren’s syndrome and kidney transplant rejection next year. Another asset, VIB7734, is currently in early phase testing in multiple autoimmune diseases.

The spinout bought the candidates, plus others in its preclinical pipeline, from AstraZeneca for $142 million. Viela is also on the hook for milestones, including $64 million tied to the progress of its lead drug inebilizumab. The milestones are one of many ways in which Viela remains tied to AstraZeneca, which provides the biotech with manufacturing, clinical and commercial services.