Editor's Note: Each year, we honor a top entrepreneur in our annual Entrepreneur contest. Meet the finalists in the running for Entrepreneur of 2012. Here, a look at Ryo Kubota, founder of Acucela.
Even before Ryo Kubota founded Acucela, a biotechnology company focused on developing therapies for blinding eye diseases, he had an accomplish resume. Early in his career while performing ocular surgery in Keio University in Japan, Kubota discovered the gene that causes glaucoma and performed close to a thousand eye surgeries. Growing increasingly frustrated by the lack of adequate treatment available for devastating eye diseases, Kubota came to the U.S. to expand his research. In 2002, he founded Acucela out of the basement of his home.
In the years since, Acucela has developed oral drugs that have the ability to slow blinding eye diseases like dry age-related macular degeneration, retinopathy of prematurity, Stargardt disease and diabetic retinopathy, which affect millions of people around the world. Today, Acucela is in the second phase of clinical trials for a once-a-day pill that uses a specific enzyme to reduce toxic byproducts that accumulate in the back of the eye, causing glaucoma. "I strongly believe the treatment paradigm in ophthalmology has to be changed," he says. "Instead of injecting things into the eye, we want to do something non-invasively."
By developing less invasive treatments for blinding eye diseases, Kubota hopes to be able to offer oral medication that can cure blinding eye diseases and treat them in their early stages. "The mission that we have is global," says Kubota. "There is no border for disease or drug."
The Seattle-based company now has 80 employees, and in 2011, Acucela made $34.2-million in sales. But despite the strides made in ocular research, Kubota is confident there is still much to be done in terms of discovery in the field. "The ophthalmology space is still relatively untapped in terms of drug development," he says. "Now ophthalmology is the front runner for innovation."