Galen founder severs his ties and nets £97m

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The Independent Online

Allen McClay, Northern Ireland's richest businessman, yesterday cashed in £97m of shares to sever his ties with Galen, the drug company he founded 36 years ago.

Allen McClay, Northern Ireland's richest businessman, yesterday cashed in £97m of shares to sever his ties with Galen, the drug company he founded 36 years ago.

Dr McClay, who turned 71 last month, has been investing heavily in recent years in a collection of manufacturing and science businesses that he bought back from Galen after his retirement from the company in 2001.

The sale of his remaining holding, 6.5 per cent of the company, came as a surprise to Galen's management, including John King, the chairman. However, it is the culmination of a string of disposals by Dr McClay, which included 4.3 million shares last December and a £5m slug of stock the day before Galen admitted takeover talks with Barr Laboratories had collapsed.

The shy bachelorset up Galen in 1968 after several years working as a drug sales rep for Glaxo. Although he retired as non-executive president of Galen in 2001, having overseen its growth from a business providing manufacturing and laboratory services to drug makers to a specialist pharmaceuticals company in its own right, Dr McClay spent £90m buying back the original businesses. He says he "bought a chemistry set to keep me busy in my retirement".

Last September, he opened a £25m state-of-the-art headquarters for Chemical Synthesis Services in Craigavon, making the company Ireland's largest chemistry service provider. He has also been a patron of Queen's University, Belfast.

Galen shares have doubled in the past year, but they suffered yesterday amid rumours that Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein was looking to place Dr McClay's remaining 12 million shares. This was eventually done at 810p a share, a 4.5 per cent discount to the previous night's close. The stock closed at 822p.

Galen, which was floated in 1997, has grown through product acquisitions and the takeover of Warner Chilcott of the US in 2000, and is now a £1.5bn company with sales last year of £260m and profits of £70m. It specialises in women's healthcare, with products in hormone replacement therapy, contraception and severe premenstrual tension, but sales of the only product developed in-house, a vaginal ring for administering HRT, have proved disappointing. Barr walked away from bid talks last July.

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