Gowrie-Smith to quit SkyePharma board

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Ian Gowrie-Smith, the founder and former chairman of the embattled drug developer SkyePharma, will today cave in to shareholder pressure and stand down from the company's board.

A group of investors who own 14.2 per cent of SkyePharma and are unhappy with the drug developer's underperformance ousted Mr Gowrie-Smith as chairman three weeks ago, though he remained on the board as a non-executive director.

SkyePharma then snubbed dissident investors by appointing the company insider Jerry Karabelas as chairman. The rebels have been pushing for the appointment of Whatman's chairman, Bob Thian, in Mr Karabelas' place, as well as calling for Mr Gowrie-Smith's removal from the board.

In a statement to the stock market this morning, SkyePharma will say Mr Gowrie-Smith's departure is designed to simplify matters for shareholders. The move will focus the debate on Mr Thian's appointment.

SkyePharma argues that he lacks the necessary experience, especially as he has not had an executive role in the pharmaceutical industry since 1987. It also revealed last week that Mr Thian turned down an offer to be non-executive chairman of SkyePharma.

The rebel shareholder group, which comprises North Atlantic Value (NAV), a fund run by JO Hambro, as well as Morley Fund Management and Insight Investment, has called an extraordinary meeting to install Mr Thian as chairman. The rebels claim to have 37 per cent backing for their plans, though this is disputed by the company.

The battle hinges on HBM Bioventures, the Swiss venture capital group headed by the former Roche finance director Henri Meier, which is the single largest shareholder in SkyePharma, with a 9.3 per cent stake.

After his departure from SkyePharma, Mr Gowrie-Smith, 57, will focus on his mining interests Tiberon Minerals, Triple Plate Junction and Rift Oil, which is set to float on the Alternative Investment Market in the next few weeks.