Pharmaceuticals comeback for Glaxo's Sykes

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Sir Richard Sykes, the former chairman of GlaxoSmithKline and currently rector of Imperial College, is returning to the pharmaceutical industry with the part-time chairmanship of an ambitious new drug marketing business.

He is investing in Medeus Pharma, a private equity backed company, which said yesterday it had completed the acquisition of a 150-strong European salesforce from Elan, the distressed Irish drug maker.

Medeus, which is supported by Apax Partners, paid $120m (£64m) for the staff and about a dozen Elan drugs. Sir Richard will chair board meetings but will spend less than one day a week with Medeus.

He said the company has plans to grow through acquiring the rights to sell niche products in territories outside the US. "Apax has brought together a very experienced senior management team with an already successful sales and marketing infrastructure. As an independent business, Medeus will be able to offer biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies outstanding access to the European market."

The chief executive of Medeus is Bryan Morton, previously senior vice-president of the European operations of Bristol-Myers Squibb, a US giant. Steven Harris, the ex-finance director of PowderJect, the UK vaccines group taken over by a US company last year, is chief financial officer.

The company's main products include treatments for breast cancer, lymphoma and fungal infections, and total sales were $80m (£42m) last year. It is in advanced talks on at least two more licensing deals, and will receive milestone payments and royalties on any products as it takes them through regulatory registration and on to the market.

The architect of the two mega-mergers which turned Glaxo into GSK, Sir Richard retired as the group's chairman in 2002. Later that year, as rector of Imperial he was frustrated in a dramatic bid to merge the university with its rival, University College London. The project was universally condemned by staff and former students.