Ailing Vanguard under pressure to shut down

VANGUARD MEDICA, the embattled drug development company, will tomorrow come under renewed pressure to close itself down and return cash to its disgruntled shareholders.

One of the company's investors is planning to renew his call for a liquidation of the company with a letter to Vanguard chairman Roger Brimblecombe. Paul McGroary, a professional investor with a small stake in Vanguard, is to urge Dr Brimblecombe to turn the company into a "cash cow" for its shareholders.

Mr McGroary, who had a meeting with other small investors on Saturday, claims that a number of Vanguard's shareholders are angry at the sharp fall in the company's share price caused by a series of failures in Vanguard's drugs. "The board should consider the complete failure of the company to deliver any performance," he said.

He said he would urge Dr Brimblecombe to close down Vanguard after finding a European marketing partner for its migraine drug Frovatriptan - the most advanced product in the Vanguard pipeline.

Mr McGroary said that in the next few days he would try to gain support for its campaign from Vanguard's institutional shareholders, which include Rothschild's Biotechnology Investment Trust, Guardian Royal Exchange and Equitable Life. The company declined to comment yesterday.

Last week, Vanguard suffered the latest in a series of setbacks when it scrapped a treatment for kidney failure because it had not proved effective in clinical trials. The company's shares have lost over 70 per cent of their value since the drug giant SmithKline Beecham dropped Frovatriptan in May.

Vanguard later signed a $50m contract with the Irish pharmaceutical group Elan to market the product in the US. However, the deal failed to resurrect the share price as analysts warned that Elan was too small to drive through the marketing of the drug.

Last month, Vanguard was forced to scrap a series of warrants which could have raised more than pounds 25m in cash, due to the collapse in the share price.

This is the second time Mr McGroary and the Vanguard board have crossed swords. Last month, the shareholder wrote to the chief executive, Robert Mansfield, urging him to return pounds 96m to shareholders.

Dr Mansfield dismissed the suggestion, saying that Mr McGroary's strategy was not shared by the board and the rest of the shareholders.