Vernalis loses CEO and US business in shake-up

Peter Fellner, the executive chairman of Vernalis, has orchestrated a huge restructuring at the loss-making biotechnology company that will see it retreat from America, cut more than half of its workforce, and result in the departure of its chief executive.

Mr Fellner, the former head of Celltech and one of the most respected figures in the UK biotech industry, said yesterday that he plans to return the company once known as British Biotech to its roots as a research and development-focused company with operations centred in Cambridge. The aggressive programme unveiled yesterday will undo most of what was done by chief executive Simon Sturge, who tried to reshape the company through a series of acquisitions into a speciality pharmaceutical company focused on America.

Mr Sturge will leave next month. Vernalis's cash-burn will be reduced from about £20m per year to £9m through the cutting of its 210-strong workforce to 90, with at least half the redundancies coming to the US salesforce.

Vernalis also reached a crucial settlement on a $56m (£28m) loan that it had taken out from partner Endo Pharmaceuticals. Under the deal, the company agreed to repay $7m to Endo and give up its rights to US royalties from migraine medication Frova. Under the original financing terms, Vernalis would have had to pay back the loan in its entirety by August next year, a worry that has weighed heavily on the cash-poor company.

Mr Fellner said he was in talks with three bidders interested in buying its Parkinson's treatment Ap-okyn. Doing so would complete the company's exit from America.