Acucela spots a $162M Japanese IPO to get its eye drug into focus

Seattle biotech Acucela is on track to test whether the stateside IPO boom has legs overseas, pricing a public offering in Japan for $162.3 million.

The company's underwriters, led by Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities, have agreed to buy 9.2 million shares at $17.65 apiece, landing Acucela on the Tokyo Stock Exchange near the middle of the price range it set in December.

After discounts and commissions, the biotech will have about $142.6 million to jump-start its pipeline of ophthalmic drugs. Leading the way is emixustat, a Phase IIb/III pill to treat dry age-related macular degeneration that has received the FDA's fast-track designation, followed by OPA-6566, a Phase I eye drop for glaucoma.

Acucela figures it will deliver the shares on Feb. 10 and begin trading on the TSE's Mothers Exchange on Feb. 13. The company plans to use $63 million of its raise to fund R&D, put $36 million toward a marketing force in anticipation of emixustat's launch, and spend another $44 million to cover general expenses.

Unlike most of biotech's recent IPO hopefuls, Acucela is already profitable thanks to a bevy of collaborations with Japanese drugmaker Otsuka. However, the duo's most promising asset, a dry eye treatment called rebamipide, failed a Phase III study in September, cutting off a major revenue stream for Acucela and leading the company to cut 35% of its payroll.

Now the biotech is putting its hopes behind emixustat, which, if approved, would be the first FDA-OK'd treatment for dry AMD, Acucela said. Furthermore, the drug may have applications in diabetic retinopathy, diabetic macular edema and Stargardt disease, and the company is running preclinical studies to test out those indications.

It's not often that American companies go public in Japan--IPO research outfit Renaissance Capital said in December that it found no precedent for Acucela's move--but the Tokyo market has been strong over the past year, as 6 companies have raised more than $100 million in IPOs.

- read the filing