Stahel joins Norwood as new drug firm eyes AIM float

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The Independent Online

Rolf Stahel, the drug company executive who was forced out from Shire Pharmaceuticals in 2002, has re-emerged as the chairman of a new drugs group which plans to list on the junior AIM market in the next few weeks.

He is taking a non-executive post at Norwood Immunology, a spin-out from an Australian company called Norwood Abbey, which promises a treatment to "reboot" the body's immune system and help fight cancer.

Norwood Immunology plans to raise up to £15m in new money, valuing the company at up to £100m. It is about to start the final stage of human trials for its product, which it says can stimulate the thymus, a gland below the neck that produces white blood cells used by the body to fight disease.

Mr Stahel, 60, said: "I had been looking for a company I could build over five years, because of my age, but I hadn't found one that was clean enough, and I certainly didn't want to come out big and flop with it. I am cutting the timeframe short with Norwood, because of the quality and simplicity of the science, which uses an existing product for a new indication. We are expecting the product should first launch in 2006."

Mr Stahel has been linked with a string of public and private companies since his departure from Shire, but several negotiations - including over the chief executive job at the FTSE 250 vaccines group Acambis - are believed to have broken down over the terms of any remuneration or incentive package.

At Norwood, Mr Stahel is being paid a salary of $100,000 (£56,000) but will be heavily incentivised against the share price. He is being granted 5 million share options, exercisable at the flotation price, and will receive a further 1 million options, also exercisable at the float price, if the shares rise 150 per cent.

Mr Stahel is a former marketing executive at Wellcome. But his reputation in the industry is based on his decade at the helm of Shire, which he turned from a private company with annual revenues of less than £2m to a FTSE 100 stalwart worth £2.4bn - only to be ousted after a boardroom row over strategy.

He walked away from Shire with a £5.9m pay-off, which included a £4.3m pension fund top-up which prompted a substantial shareholder revolt at last year's annual meeting.

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