Share story

Acucela, a Seattle biotechnology company developing treatments for eye diseases, plans an initial public offering of up to $125 million in shares that would be traded on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, a rare move for a U.S.-based company.

The company, which has no marketable products yet, reports it has been profitable but is cutting staff after the loss of a collaboration deal and a research setback.

Acucela aims “to treat and slow the progression of sight-threatening ophthalmic diseases” such as age-related macular degeneration and diabetic macular edema, according to a regulatory filing Tuesday.

For a U.S. company to go public in Tokyo “is a very rare occurrence,” said Justin Jacobson, an analyst with Renaissance Capital, which tracks initial public offerings. “So rare we do not have any precedents for this event in our IPO database.”

Tokyo’s IPO market has been strong in 2013 while biotech IPO returns in the U.S. have been lackluster, Jacobson added.

Six IPOs have raised more than $100 million in the Tokyo Stock Exchange so far this year. One $251 million technology offering, Broadleaf, yielded an 82 percent return, according to Renaissance Capital data.

Acucela’s shares would trade on the so-called Mothers market of the Tokyo exchange, a market started in 1999 to attract listings from early-stage companies.

Founded in 2002, Acucela had revenue of nearly $42 million in the nine months ended Sept. 30, all from collaborations with Japanese pharmaceutical company Otsuka that began in 2008.

Otsuka also owns a 13 percent stake in Acucela.

Unlike the vast majority of early-stage biotech companies, Acucela reported a net profit — $5.1 million — in the latest nine months.

However, Otsuka in September terminated one co-development agreement with Acucela after a Phase 3 clinical trial of a drug called rebamipide for the treatment of dry-eye syndrome didn’t meet its primary goals.

The end of that agreement prompted Acucela to cut 35 percent of its workforce, or 30 people, this month.

Given the company’s reliance on Otsuka for funding its various programs, the IPO filing says “it would be difficult to replace Otsuka as a collaboration partner.”

Acucela was founded by ophthalmologist Ryo Kubota, who is president and CEO. He owns 44 percent of the company.

The other major stockholder is SBI Group of Japan, which owns 29 percent.

Seattle Times business reporter Ángel González contributed to this story.