Management change in the air at SkyePharma

Shares in SkyePharma shrugged off speculation about a management shake-up at the group as hopes grew that there might be news of a new licensing deal later this week.

The group has pushed back its results date to this Thursday, the latest possible opportunity it has to report without breaching Stock Exchange rules, in a bid to present investors with some good news after failing to meet its promise to seal three major licensing deals last year.

According to sources, the chief executive, Michael Ashton, is considering handing in his resignation on Thursday to satisfy investors who have been frustrated by the company's constant mismanagement of market expectations. After consistently putting out optimistic statements to the market on the group's progress in 2003, it was finally forced to admit in January that most of its promised deals had not yet been signed.

One analysts said he was uncertain whether Mr Ashton's departure would be beneficial to investors. "I think Ashton has done a reasonable job," he said. " You could get someone else in that might give better guidance to the market, but will they be able to run the company?"

The shares closed up 1p yesterday at 66p, down from the 80p level they reached at the beginning of the year.

Earlier this month, SkyePharma finally concluded the first of its three promised deals from last year, signing up with Medeus Pharma to market a slow-release morphine injection.

The deal is worth up to £100m. However, its late delivery was one of the contributing factors to a SkyePharma profit warning earlier this year, when it warned that its 2003 results would report a loss. At the interim results, it had estimated full-year profits would come in between £85m and £100m.

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