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AstraZeneca Spins-Out 6 Early Stage Drugs to New Independent Biotech

The British drugmaker has now spun-out Viela Bio, a standalone biotech, and carved off six inflammation and autoimmune assets to get it up and running with a $250M base capital.

The potential new medicines include inebilizumab, currently in Phase II trial 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. It was granted Orphan Drug Designation by the US Food and Drug Administration in 2016 and by the European Medicines Agency in 2017.

These candidates would traditionally be shelved or abandoned, or sometimes sold on to ex-employees who spot the potential of the drugs and set up their own biotech firms to develop them.

Viela Bio will have something in common with this last approach, except that it has been created with financial backing from AstraZeneca which will remain its largest minority shareholder.

Viela Bio will be based in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and will be led by Bing Yao, who assumes the position of Chief Executive and, until the formation of Viela, was Head of Respiratory, Inflammation and Autoimmunity at Medimmune.

We are launching Viela Bio with a strong investor backing and a very robust pipeline with multiple novel molecules in inflammation and autoimmunity,” said Yao. “This is combined with a strong, expanding team that has in-depth scientific and clinical development expertise, and the ability to bring important, innovative medicines to patients.

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Alongside Yao, he will be joined by Jorn Drappa, previously Vice President of Respiratory, Inflammation and Autoimmunity at MedImmune.

Bahija Jallal, head of AstraZeneca’s MedImmune biotech unit, believes that the drugmaker will remain strongly active in immunology. “Our strategy is very much to follow the science. In some cases, we will develop the science in-house and in other cases, it will be developed elsewhere,” she added. 

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