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Meet Ora, A family-owned firm that’s helped bring 37 eye treatments to market

The words “family-owned” and “biotechnology” don’t often go together, but an Andover company that specializes in helping develop eye treatments manages to fall into both categories.

Ora Inc. is a 35-year-old company that does research on new ophthalmology drugs and devices for other firms. It also invests in early-stage companies, getting a large portion of its more than $50 million in annual revenue through royalties and milestone payments, and helps with consulting and other services for young biotechs. The company has helped more than 37 companies gain U.S. approval for treatments.

“Ora has really become this vertically-integrated one-stop shop,” said CEO Stuart Abelson.

Abelson said the company was started by his father Mark Abelson, a fellow at Mass Eye & Ear, in the late 1970s. Mark Abelson created a model for approval of ocular allergy drugs, and the company has helped bring 19 such treatments to approval, Abelson said.

The company has been profitable almost since the beginning, without needing outside funding. Since Stuart Abelson took over in 2007, the company has quadrupled in size and now has 120 employees, including 85 in Andover. Much of that growth has been due to the creation of more ophthalmology-focused biotechs as larger eye health companies have cut research budgets, and increasingly on new products developed at smaller companies. In the past year, Stuart Abelson said Ora has sold two products to Rochester, N.Y.-based eye health company, Bausch & Lomb, and 2014 will be a “record year” in terms of revenue.

Stuart Abelson said that while he grew up the son of an ophthalmologist, he didn’t pursue a medical degree, getting his MBA from the Kellogg School of Management. The company has strong ties to Bates College, the liberal arts college in Lewiston, Maine, and has hired dozens of students from the college over the years.

“We love liberal arts graduates,” he said. “They just do a great job leading projects and getting stuff done.”