Acucela Founder Regains Top Spot at Company After Shareholder's Meeting

Acucela Founder Regains Top Spot at Company After Shareholder's Meeting

May 4, 2015
By Alex Keown, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff

SEATTLE -- Ryo Kubota, the founder of Seattle-biotech firm Acucela Inc. who lost his chief executive officer spot in December, was returned to the company's top spot after a slate of new board of directors members voted to return him to that position, the Seattle Times reported.

The paper reported Kubota's return was a foregone conclusion when a court ordered a shareholder's meeting, primarily due to the fact that the company founder is the largest single share holder. He was backed by a proxy from Japanese investment firm SBI Holdings. Together the team controlled more than 50 percent of the vote.

Kubota was ousted from his position in December and Brian O'Callaghan, the company's president and chief operating officer, was named CEO. Kubota remained as chairman of the company board of directors. Acucela's stock, which is traded on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, dropped 23 points following the change in leadership. On March 3 Kubota and the Japanese investment firm SBI Holdings, Inc. filed a lawsuit in Washington State to force a shareholder's meeting, and the court agreed with the filing.

In a March statement responding to the court's ruling on the shareholder meeting, Glen Sato, the company's lead director, criticized Kubota's leadership. He said the company was fortunate to have O'Callaghan in the top spot "once it became apparent to the board that Dr. Kubota was unable to transition from founding visionary to a public company CEO." Sato said the company learned that Kubota had a poor relationship with Otsuka Pharmaceutical, one of Acucela's chief partners. He said any vote returning Kubota to the CEO spot would be damaging to the company.

"The message to SBI and our other shareholders is clear: We believe that if Dr. Kubota returns as CEO, after his failure in that role once already, then in our opinion the company and its shareholders are likely to suffer significant harm," Sato said in the statement.

Before Friday' vote, three board members, Sato, Peter Kresel and Michael Schutzler issued a statement supporting the, at that time, current leadership structure.

"The company is currently on the right track, as evidenced by the significant progress achieved by Mr. O'Callaghan, the members of the management team and the employees of Acucela," they said in the statement.

Despite the impassioned plea, the return of Kubato was formalized by the board. Yoshitaka Kitao, a new Acucela board member and the CEO of SBI Holdings said Kubota will "best maximize the value of the company for all stakeholders," the Seattle Times reported.

Prior to the vote the company announced its current head of biology resigned his position effective May 1, the day of the shareholder vote.

"The company has now lost its core research competency and a core member of its business development team. Further, Acucela's efforts to hire a chief scientific officer have been and currently are underway, but the ongoing situation involving the pending replacement of the existing board and CEO are negatively impacting these efforts. 

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