It’s been a wild four months for the Boulder-based biopharmaceutical maker formerly known as Miragen.
Now known as Viridian Therapeutics Inc. (Nasdaq: VRDN), the company this week completed a rebrand to cap off four months of tumult for the company, which was kicked off by the resignation of co-founder Bill Marshall several months ago.
At the time, the legacy Miragen said it would seek a strategic alternative. That phrase is a signal that a company is looking to be acquired or merge with another.
Now, with a new clinical focus and an infusion of cash, Viridian and its CEO Jonathan Violin are preparing to settle into the routines of drug development.
In an interview with BizWest, Violin said the legacy Viridian was seeking to grow quickly at the same time Miragen engaged with an investment bank to review its options.
Soon after the two companies were introduced through investment banks, they combined in an all-stock deal and took on an additional $90.97 million in additional investment.
“Having sort of first seen on paper what Miragen had and that they were looking to do something strategic, and then meeting the people and how strong the team seemed, it just became a compelling match,” Violin said.
The combination was structured similarly to a reverse merger initial public offering, a market move where a private company acquires a struggling public company and rebrands it. Violin was initially chief operating officer of Miragen under former CEO Lee Rauch for nearly three months before he was named the chief executive of what is now Viridian.
Rauch is now a senior advisor to the company.
While it’s not uncommon for a company to remake itself through a strategic combination, the speed of the legacy companies coming together was surprising, said Leland Gershell, a senior biopharmaceuticals analyst at Oppenheimer & Co. Inc.
“Companies are struggling, that are looking for a refresh, it could take them six months, it could take nine months, you know. It can take some time,” he said.
New disease targets, new strategy
Viridian’s strategy now is to target diseases that already have approved treatments but use different delivery mechanisms that patients may find more pleasant to use. The flagship drug brought over from legacy Viridian is VRDN-001, a treatment for bulging eyes caused by Graves’ Disease or other ocular problems caused by an overactive thyroid. The drug has already passed Phase I trials and is expected to enter Phase II trials this year.
If approved, that drug would be combined with a recently-licensed technology that would allow patients to treat themselves at home with an injection instead of going to a medical office for an intravenous infusion.
Building new approaches to treating specific diseases is common in the pharmaceutical industry, particularly because it avoids the risk of spending millions in capital to research a novel drug candidate that fails in trials.
But trying to bridge the gap between different delivery mechanisms could pose a risk in efficacy.
“The challenges tend to be greater for that, than let’s say, an oral small molecule that can be put into a sustained release,” Gershell said.
Despite that potential headwind, Gershell and Oppenheimer believe the company is set to outperform in the coming months and has set a $37 price target for the stock in the future.
For now, the frenzy of C-suite activity should die down as Violin and incoming Chief Medical Officer Dr. Barrett Katz set about leading the development of VRDN-001.
Violin and half of the company’s most recent headcount of 27 will work out of Massachusetts where the legacy Viridian was based while the rest and the company’s corporate headquarters will remain in Boulder.
While the legacy Miragen was focused on micro-RNA and the current Viridian isn’t, Violin thinks that the broad drug development skill sets brought by the employees on both sides of the two former companies will complement the larger goal of the new and better-capitalized Viridian.
“I look at it really as a new direction, a new company, a new mission, and that we’re really set up hopefully for long term success,” he said.
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