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Millar adds libel writ to British Biotech dispute

HOPES OF a settlement in the bitter legal row between British Biotech and its former head of clinical research Dr Andrew Millar faded this week as Dr Millar issued a writ for libel against the drug discovery company.

Despite recent offers of a pounds 120,000 settlement by the company, the case looks set for the High Court this summer.

British Biotech sacked Dr Millar last April after he "blew the whistle" to investors over his concerns about the progress of drug tests. He discussed with shareholders two trials of the company's star drugs, Marimastat and Zacutex, for pancreatitis. The sacking prompted a huge row between Dr Millar and the company's then chief executive, Keith McCullagh, who has also subsequently left the company.

The company was the first to launch legal action, suing Dr Millar last June for breach of contract and breach of confidence. He then counter- claimed for wrongful dismissal and defamation.

Dr Millar sought "substantial damages," understood to be at least pounds 180,000.

Now Dr Millar has launched a second legal action claiming damages for libel. He is objecting to statements made by the company on its Internet website (www.britbio.co.uk) on 4 August last year on the "Business Review" page under the heading "Product Development".

He is also suing over statements made in a press release on 20 August titled "Regulatory Update". He is also objecting to comments contained in the company's first-quarter results announcement on 23 September and in its second- quarter results on 13 November.

Dr Millar said the offending words were "published to the media, the ... [company's] shareholders and the general public."

A source close to Dr Millar said they expected this week's writ to be consolidated into the existing legal action and to be tried at the same time, either in June or after the summer break, in October.

"Money is not the issue," the source said. "It's the rights and wrongs of what Dr Millar did. As the case goes on our confidence in his case increases steadily."

A spokeswoman for British Biotech said yesterday: "The litigation is ongoing and therefore we can't comment."

Elliot Goldstein, chief executive of British Biotech, has said in the past that he would like to settle the action out of court. It is understood that a month ago the company offered Dr Millar pounds 120,000.