Horizon inks $3B deal to buy AstraZeneca spinout Viela for autoimmune drugs

Horizon Therapeutics has struck a $3 billion deal to buy AstraZeneca spinout Viela Bio. The takeover will give Horizon a clutch of clinical-phase autoimmune and inflammatory disease drug candidates, R&D capabilities and an approved monoclonal antibody.

Viela spun out of AstraZeneca with six drug candidates and $250 million early in 2018. Since then, the biotech has gone on to raise more money from private and public markets to advance its pipeline of assets. The lead program, Uplizna in neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder, won FDA approval last year. 

Now, Horizon has identified Viela as a good fit for its pipeline expansion initiative and moved to buy the biotech. The deal is worth $53 a share in cash, well up on the $35 Viela closed at last week but below the high it hit in the run-up to the FDA’s decision about Uplizna last year.

In return, Horizon will gain Uplizna, which is in clinical development in additional indications such as myasthenia gravis, and a set of experimental candidates led by VIB4920. The fusion protein, which is designed to bind to CD40L on activated T cells to stop them interacting with B cells, is in phase 2b development as a treatment for Sjögren’s syndrome. Viela is also running midphase studies in kidney transplant rejection and rheumatoid arthritis.

The clinical-phase pipeline also features the anti-ILT7 monoclonal antibody VIB7734. Viela plans to start a phase 2 clinical trial of the drug in systemic lupus erythematosus in the coming months to test its ability to improve outcomes through the depletion of plasmacytoid dendritic cells. Finally, another monoclonal antibody, VIB1116, is due to start a first-in-human clinical trial in mid-2021. 

In a statement to disclose the takeover, Horizon CEO Tim Walbert said his team plans to maximize the potential of Viela’s pipeline, including by going after additional indications. Horizon also framed the deal as a boost for its long-term prospects, noting it is gaining “a team with early-stage research, translational and clinical development capabilities along with deep scientific knowledge in autoimmune and severe inflammatory diseases.”