Aurinia’s largest shareholder, ILJIN, launches proxy contest

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ILJIN SNT, a founding shareholder of Aurinia Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:AUPH, TSX:AUP), has filed a dissident proxy circular, nominating three individuals for election as directors at Aurinia’s AGM scheduled for June 26.

ILJIN is a global life sciences-focused investment firm that has invested $58-million in Aurinia to-date, holding a 14% ownership interest as a result.

Aurinia is developing voclosporin, a novel calcineurin inhibitor with immunosuppressant properties, for several indications. ILJIN first became involved with voclosporin through a licensing arrangement with Aurinia’s predecessor company, Isotechnika Pharma, in 2010. ILJIN became a significant shareholder in Aurinia when Isotechnika and Aurinia merged in 2013 and Aurinia reacquired full rights to voclosporin.

ILJIN hoped Aurinia would advance voclosporin through clinical trials to commercialization, however “since announcing positive long-term outcomes for patients suffering from lupus nephritis, followed by a significant public offering of stock in March 2017, Aurinia has failed to communicate or execute a coherent strategy to maintain its momentum and to realize the tremendous potential of voclosporin,” Young-Hwa Kim, ILJIN’s CEO, said in a letter to shareholders filed in conjunction with the proxy circular.

“We, along with all Aurinia shareholders, have waited patiently for current leadership to not only advance the commercialization of voclosporin, but to do so in a way that shows respect for its public shareholders, in terms of financial discipline, proper corporate governance, and prudent capital raising,” he said. “Unfortunately, the current Board has repeatedly failed to meet these responsibilities, and change is needed.”

ILJIN is seeking support for Dr. Robert Foster, Mr. Soon-Yub (Samuel) Kwon and Dr. Myeong-Hee Yu as independent nominees for election as Aurinia’s directors.

Dr. Robert Foster played a key role in the discovery of voclosporin and was the former CEO of both Isotechnika and Aurinia. Mr. Soon-Yub (Samuel) Kwon, a healthcare company advisor; and Dr. Myeong-Hee Yu, a highly-published researcher and biotechnology industry advisor; each have more than 30 years of experience in their fields.

“It is abundantly clear that Aurinia shareholders require a board of directors that aligns with shareholders and that can guide the company toward successful commercialization of voclosporin. For this reason, ILJIN has taken the step of nominating three highly qualified and independent directors, who will act in the interest of all shareholders to realize voclosporin’s full potential,” Kim said.

Abby Hardy