EXCLUSIVE: Reinstated Acucela CEO Tells BioSpace "Shareholders Made Their Choice"

EXCLUSIVE: Reinstated Acucela CEO Tells BioSpace
May 7, 2015
By Riley McDermid, BioSpace.com Breaking News Sr. Editor

Clinical stage Seattle-based biotech Acucela Inc. has been on a rollercoaster ride all winter and most of this spring, after it first ousted its CEO and faced a group of disgruntled shareholders—then reversed course and had to reinstate Former Chief Executive Officer Ryo Kubota last week, after a spate of lawsuits and shareholder meetings forced the company’s hand.

You can read the whole convoluted story here. Acucela develops treatments for blindness and other sight-threatening diseases. In 2014, Acucela became a publicly listed company in Japan and raised around $162 million.

Now, less than a week after regaining his perch in the exec suite, BioSpace spoke exclusively with Kubota about how it felt to go from founder, CEO and president, to simply a shareholder and legal combatant, and back again.

Q: How does it feel to be back in the C-level suite?

I founded Acucela out of my basement 13 years ago and as CEO and chairman, I led the company into clinical trials, successfully funded and developed the company and secured the company’s listing last year on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. Acucela is not a line on my resume – it’s my life’s work. I am happy to be back leading the company, and my commitment to Acucela is as strong as it’s ever been.

I’m also thrilled to be moving forward with a management team that is unprecedented in terms of its depth of experience. Steve Tarr (our new Chief Operating Officer), John Gebhart (our new Chief Financial Officer) and Ted Danse (our new Chief Business Officer) bring immeasurable value in executive leadership, health care management, life science administration and technology.

All four of us are excited to help Acucela continue to thrive as an innovator in the treatment of ophthalmic diseases.

Q: When does this return take effect?

It took effect May 1. Acucela shareholders elected four new board members (Yoshitaka Kitao, Shiro Mita, Eisaku Nakamura and Robert Takeuchi) and later in the day, named me as CEO and also appointed Steve, John and Ted to their positions.

Q: How has the last six months been for you professionally, with such a high-profile rollercoaster?

The last few months were difficult, no doubt. But my passion for Acucela and our mission of improving the lives of people with sight-threatening diseases never wavered. Acucela is part of me and it has been since I founded the company. Leading Acucela as CEO is where I’m supposed to be. But I’m also not alone. My new managers, the new Board and the entire Acucela team will move forward together on our company’s important mission: research and development of treatments for debilitating eye diseases.

Q: Do you feel confident you’ll be able to stay in that position?

Yes. The uncertainty of the last few months was temporary, and the company is now on firm ground. On May 1, an overwhelming majority of the Acucela shareholders who voted named four new Board members, and the new Board then re-appointed me CEO and also appointed my new management team. The shareholders and the Acucela board made their choices and their show of support very strongly.

Q: What’s your biggest hope for Acucela going forward?

My biggest hope is that Acucela continues on the promising path it’s already on. We have so much going for us at Acucela. With drugs under development and in clinical trials and our expertise in the science of visual cycle modulation (VCM), our company has the potential to greatly improve the lives of millions of people who suffer from sight-threatening diseases like glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration (AMD). We are doing important, potentially world-changing work.

Our relationships with all our partners remain strong, and we are exploring new areas of business. Our new management team also gives Acucela unprecedented experience in its executive leadership. We think we move forward even better positioned for the future than we were before.

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