- Horizon Therapeutics has agreed to acquire Viela Bio, a spinout of AstraZeneca, in a deal that values the Maryland-based biotech at roughly $3 billion.
- Horizon will pay $53 per share for Viela, which in June won U.S. approval for Uplizna, a treatment for the rare autoimmune disease neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder, or NMOSD. The price represents a roughly 53% premium for Viela, whose drug competes for market share with medicines from Roche and Alexion Pharmaceuticals.
- The deal represents a quick exit for Viela's investors, among them AstraZeneca. The British drugmaker established Viela in February 2018. It went public in 2019 at $19 per share, won its first drug approval in 2020, and is now set up to be acquired in 2021. AstraZeneca will sell its 26.7% stake in Viela as part of the deal and expects to net between $760 million and $780 million.
Viela has sped through the typical biotech milestones, going from newly formed company to commercial drugmaker to acquisition target in just three years.
The company debuted in early 2018, equipped with an unusually large amount of initial funding and six molecules from MedImmune, AstraZeneca's research and development arm for biologics. Among those molecules was a potential treatment for NMOSD, a rare condition that causes loss of vision and mobility problems, and affects an estimated 10,000 people in the U.S.
About a year and a half after forming, Viela raised around $150 million through an initial public offering.
And then, 10 months after going public, the company secured approval for that NMOSD drug, now known as Uplizna.
Viela's progress has evidently caught the attention of Horizon, a company focused on treatments for rare and rheumatic diseases.
Horizon was an avid acquirer throughout the mid- to late-2010s, snapping up Hyperion Therapeutics, Raptor Pharmaceutical and River Vision Development Corp. as a way to quickly build its pipeline of rare disease drugs. Though Horizon has been quieter on the M&A front lately, the company's bid for Viela represents its largest purchase to date. The deal is expected to close by the end of March.
Once completed, the deal would hand Horizon three clinical-stage drugs targeting inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.
One of them, VIB7734, inhibits an immune system-regulating protein called ILT7, and is being evaluated as a possible treatment for different kinds of lupus as well as acute lung injury related to COVID-19. Another, VIB4920, is in a series of mid-stage trials testing it in patients with Sjögren's syndrome, rhuematoid arthritis or kidney transplant rejection.
Researchers are also looking at other applications of Uplizna. For example, the drug is late-stage testing for myasthenia gravis, a rare neuromuscular disorder that has been at the center of other recent biotech acquisitions.
In a Monday statement, Horizon CEO Tim Walbert said his company plans on maximizing "the full potential of Viela’s pipeline, including the pursuit of additional future indications."
Derek Archila, an analyst at Stifel, wrote in a note that his team does not expect another bidder to challenge Horizon's offer.
Still, Monday's deal "continues to speak to the significant interest in the immunology category," Archila wrote. He noted, too, that while his team has been cautious about the sales opportunity for Uplizna in the NMOSD drug market, it generally holds a "favorable view" on Viela's emerging pipeline, "which seems to be the key driver of the acquisition."