Acambis chief was given £1.8m pay-off

John Brown, who quit as chief executive of the smallpox vaccine group Acambis last year, was awarded a severance package worth £1.8m - several times larger than the deal he was entitled to under his contract.

John Brown, who quit as chief executive of the smallpox vaccine group Acambis last year, was awarded a severance package worth £1.8m - several times larger than the deal he was entitled to under his contract.

The payout, revealed yesterday, included the early vesting of share options worth more than £1m, granted at the discretion of the company's remuneration committee. There is also a one-off consultancy fee and compensation for loss of office amounting to more than the 12-month notice period on Dr Brown's £288,000-a-year contract.

Details of the payments are included in Acambis's annual report, which would have landed on shareholders' doormats in the same week that the company's shares lost 12 per cent of their value. On Tuesday, Acambis was forced to halt trials of its flagship smallpox vaccine amid concerns over a high number of heart problems among volunteers.

Dr Brown left at the end of 2003 after nine years at the company. The quietly spoken Scot oversaw the transformation of Acambis from a loss-making biotech into a profitable vaccines group, thanks largely to a giant anti-bioterrorism contract with the US government.

Acambis said Dr Brown's additional severance awards were a reward for success, not a payment for failure. "The remuneration committee viewed Dr Brown's contribution over the years as an outstanding one. He took a small company worth around £30m and turned it into one of the few, perhaps the only, successful UK biotech," a spokesman said.

The centrepiece of the award is the vesting of 620,000 share options under a 1999 performance plan which would have lapsed with Dr Brown's departure. The optionswere worth a little over £1m yesterday.

The spokesman said Acambis was well on course to achieve the performance goals that would have allowed the share options to vest, should Dr Brown have stayed on. He went on to describe £450,000 cash compensation for loss of office as a "negotiated settlement". It included a year's salary from the time Dr Brown left in December - rather than from the September date at which he signalled his intention to leave - plus a sum equivalent to his 2003 pension contributions and bonus. A further £360,000 payment is to keep Dr Brown available to give "strategic advice" this year.

Dr Brown is chairman of the Roslin Institute, which cloned Dolly the sheep, and took non-executive posts at two UK-listed biotechs, Protherics and Pharmagene, after leaving Acambis.

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