Amount: $250 million
Round: Series A
Investors: 6 Dimensions Capital, Boyu Capital, Hillhouse Capital, Sirona Capital Temasek
The scoop: Viela Bio came to be when AstraZeneca, on a refocusing quest, hived off a clutch of programs in inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.
AstraZeneca contributed three clinical-stage programs—in neuromyelitis optica, myositis and an undefined autoimmune disease—as well as three preclinical programs, one of which appears to have been dropped since. It also gave Viela a management team comprising many of the same people who oversaw those assets at AstraZeneca. Bing Yao, Ph.D., formerly a senior vice president at AstraZeneca, took the helm as Viela CEO and brought with him a group of fellow alums, including Chief Medical Officer Jorn Drappa, M.D., Ph.D., and Aaron Ren, Ph.D., who heads up business development and operations.
Viela’s lead asset, inebilizumab, is a CD19-targeting monoclonal antibody that AstraZeneca tested in multiple sclerosis, multiple myeloma and neuromyelitis optica, an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks the optic nerves and spinal cord.
Neuromyelitis optica is a relapsing-remitting disease: Attacks during a relapse cause new nerve damage that adds to a patient’s “accumulating disability,” which in this case can include vision loss, blindness and paralysis. Inebilizumab targets CD19 expressed by B cells that produce antibodies that attack the nervous system. If approved, the drug could replace the immunosuppressants and steroids now used off-label because they haven't been tested specifically in neuromyelitis optica.
The company announced pivotal results at the American Academy of Neurology meeting in May, showing that two doses of inebilizumab, given two weeks apart, reduced the risk of attacks in neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder patients by 73% during a six-month period. It plans to submit a BLA for the candidate in mid-2019.