Biotech forced to delay meeting

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The Independent Online
BRITISH BIOTECH was yesterday forced to delay a crucial research and development meeting for analysts because it is busy compiling a circular to shareholders designed to counter damaging allegations against the group by Dr Andrew Millar, its disaffected former director of clinical research.

The announcement came as it emerged that vultures, in the form of rival drugs groups, are circling the group looking to pick off some of its senior staff and products.

Analysts believe large companies such as Zeneca, Glaxo Wellcome and SmithKline Beecham as well as a host of smaller biotech firms could add to British Biotech's woes by poaching key personnel such as Pam Kirby, a highly respected executive that joined the group from Astra.

Several major drugs companies are also believed to have run a slide rule over British Biotech, attracted by the fact that is has a cash pile equivalent to 30p a share compared to a current share price of just 70.5p. But bidders have been deterred by growing doubts about the efficacy of its treatments, particularly Zacutex, its pancreatitis drug. The speed with which the group is using up its spare resources with an expensive development programme has also caused concern.

British Biotech said that its research and development meeting to discuss its pipeline of drugs was now scheduled for June 15.

Analysts raised concerns that the delay was an indication that the group's drug programme has been heavily overshadowed by Dr Millar's charges.

British Biotech has faced a stream of allegations from Dr Millar since he was fired from the group last month. It plans to produce a circular answering these claims as soon as possible. But thus far the group has been reticent to release a publication date. City observers remains sceptical that the circular will be enough to save the job of Keith McCullagh, the group's chief executive.