Hiroshi Mikitani, whose Rakuten Group is losing billions of dollars to break into Japan’s wireless market, said he’s devoting a fifth of his time to a U.S.-based biotech startup for cancer treatments, describing it as "a social project” where profitability isn’t a top priority.

"I don’t think there’s a problem with the use of my time,” Mikitani said in an interview in Yokohama, where he spoke at conference held by the American Society of Clinical Oncology last week. "I probably work three times as much as other people. My role is to make decisions and make action plans; it’s not about time.”

Yet time is of the essence for the billionaire founder of the Rakuten e-commerce empire, which has sold new stock, listed its banking unit and amassed debt after four years of mounting losses at its mobile-phone business. Mikitani, a Harvard Business School graduate, pioneered Japanese e-commerce when he started his company in 1997, three years before Amazon.com began operations in the country.