Outlook: A tough job at British Biotech

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The Independent Online
IF THERE were a list of the world's worst jobs, then running British Biotech would rank right up there alongside Japanese finance minister and public apologist for Camelot. Yesterday the 69-year old chairman of British Biotech, John Raisman, announced he was making way for the youthful figure of Christopher Hampson, aged 66.

None of Mr Hampson's previous incarnations - ICI, Yorkshire Electricity, Costain - could possibly prepare him for this job and he freely admits that he took a long, hard, sceptical look before accepting it.

Now that he is on board, however, he is looking forward to maintaining the group's tradition of innovative research and development and successfully commercialising its products. If half of the claims made by its ex-director of clinical trials, Andrew Millar, are true, then British Bio's approach to research is certainly innovative.

As for successfully commercialising its products, Zacutex is dead in the water while the future of the cancer treatment Marimastat is hanging by a thread. Repeating all the trials for Zacutex that Dr Millar unblinded would be prohibitively expensive. British Bio can only hope that Marimastat does not face the same prospect.

What else can Mr Hampson look forward to? Well, there is the chance to appear before a Commons select committee (hankie at the ready). Then, of course, there is the task of liaising with all those supportive shareholders like Perpetual.

The fact that Mr Hampson will be paid circa pounds 80,000 to do the job suggests that he will need to be a little more than the traditional non-executive, part-time figure head. Of course, his most urgent task will be to fill the least appealing job of all - the one of chief executive which Keith McCullagh is vacating in September. Mr Hampson says British Bio will look internally and externally. Like the Japanese political institution, it will probably have to fall back on one of its own.