Acucela's founder wrests back the reins after proxy battle

Acucela CEO Ryo Kubota

The fight for control of Seattle biotech Acucela ($AUCL) has come to an end, as founder and once-deposed CEO Ryo Kubota retook the top spot and sent his rivals out the door.

Kubota, who presided over the company's $162 million Japanese IPO last year, stepped down in December over internal pressure from his board, which believed he "was unable to transition from founding visionary to a public company CEO," as then-lead director Glen Sato put it, and that his "lack of leadership merited his replacement."

But on Kubota's side was SBI Holdings, a major Acucela shareholder that helped the ousted CEO mount a proxy fight. SBI and Kubota sued to force the company to hold a special shareholder meeting and pitched replacing its entire board and reinstating the former chief. That vote came Friday, and Kubota and company won.

Now in his second stint at the biotech, Kubota said he and his new regime will work to bring some stability after months of turmoil, focusing on the biotech's pipeline of ophthalmic disease treatments.

"The four new board members bring extensive experience in a number of diverse areas ranging from biotechnology to investment management, which I believe reflect Acucela's needs as a development-stage biotechnology company with a significant Japanese shareholder base," Kubota said in a statement.

But the group has a long way to go to rebuild the value destroyed over the past year. Acucela's shares are trading at less than one-third of their IPO price due in part to major partner Otsuka's decision to abandon a joint project. Kubota's relationship with Otsuka was among the now-ousted board's reasons for forcing him out, and Sato, in a March letter to shareholders, warned that reinstating the CEO would seriously risk undoing the work Acucela has done to repair the partnership.

- read the statement

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