SkyePharma rebels reject peace offering

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The Independent Online

Dissident shareholders of the drug developer SkyePharma yesterday slammed the management's appointment of a new chief executive and chief operating officer and scorned its attempts to make peace with the rebels.

SkyePharma named Frank Condella, a former head of European operations at the pharmaceutical group Ivax, as chief executive to replace Michael Ashton on 1 March. Ken Cunningham, a former chief executive of the British biotechnology firm Arakis, was appointed chief operating officer.

Last week SkyePharma snubbed dissident investors, led by North Atlantic Value, by appointing Jerry Karabelas as non-executive chairman.

The rebel group, which owns 14.2 per cent of SkyePharma shares, was successful in ousting his predecessor, the company founder Ian Gowrie-Smith. Yesterday it reiterated its calls for an emergency shareholder meeting to install Bob Thian, the chairman of the filtration-paper maker Whatman, as executive chairman of SkyePharma, and claims to have 37 per cent shareholder backing (including its own share). Last Friday, NAV went to see SkyePharma's biggest shareholder HBM, with a 9.3 per cent stake, in Switzerland to try to win its support.

Mr Karabelas appealed to the rebels yesterday to reconsider their moves to appoint Mr Thian as executive chairman through an extraordinary meeting.

But his plea fell on deaf ears. NAV rejected the new appointments as it wants Mr Thian to choose a chief executive if he is appointed. Rebel investors need 50 per cent support of those voting at the extraordinary meeting, which will take place between 28 February and 9 March.