Biotech thanks investors for staying

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The Independent Online

Keith McCullagh, chief executive of British Biotech, yesterday thanked institutional investors for staying with the company over the long term - just days after two of his boardroom colleagues made a pounds 3.2m short-term profit on share sales.

But Mr McCullagh did not appear embarrassed by the action of his fellow directors. He vigorously defended their actions, denying that they showed any lack of commitment to the company.

James Noble, finance director, made a profit of pounds 1.7m and Peter Lewis, head of research and development, pocketed pounds 1.5m on Monday when they sold shares resulting from the exercise of options. The move came after a 70 per cent jump in the shares following the release of initial trial results for marimastat, one of the company's drugs.

Now under development, the treatment could be a breakthrough in the treatment of cancer. Mr McCullagh suggested yesterday the drug could have a market worth pounds 1.8bn.

He said the board was "entirely comfortable" with the commitment of the two men involved in cashing in options. Both were highly talented individuals.

"They are both probably the most talented executives in their field today. It is in large part due to them that we are in the strong position we are in today," he said. Part of their remuneration comes through a long- term share option scheme, Mr McCullagh said at a briefing given by the National Association of Pension Funds.

The scheme has been discussed and approved by the two main institutional investor bodies, the NAPF and the Association of British Insurers, as well as being cleared by shareholders at annual general meetings.