pounds 8m exit for former Chiroscience chief

The former chief executive of Chiroscience has walked away with more than pounds 8m in cash and shares to help start a new drugs venture.

Dr Nowell Stebbing, former research manager at ICI Pharmaceuticals (now Zeneca), was appointed to head Chiroscience, a group developing cancer, pain and inflammation therapies, just over a year before it floated in February 1994 at 150p a share.

But illness soon prevented him carrying on in the chief executive's post and he was replaced in April last year by Dr John Padfield from Glaxo. He recently left the company to pursue other interests, including Axis Genetics, a new research venture in Cambridge.

Dr Stebbing has now taken advantage of the soaring share price of Chiroscience, which closed at 265p, down 5p, on Friday, to exercise his right to convert options into shares which would be worth well over pounds 8m, while selling about pounds 2m to meet the costs of exercise.

The sale required special permission, as the flotation terms prevented the directors and other shareholders from disposing of shares until next February, when Dr Stebbing will be allowed to sell his remaining holding.

It is thought that he will use some of the proceeds to help meet the start-up costs of Axis, which is understood to be contemplating a listing on the Stock Exchange's new alternative investment market. Dr Stebbing is now said to have recovered from his illness and has a number of other jobs, including acting as chief executive of the Bioindustry Association and sitting on the board of Rio Pharmaceuticals and Yieldwatch, as well as Axis.

Dr Stebbing originally held options on pounds 5.44m of shares in Chiroscience, but this was reduced to pounds 3.37m after he became non-executive director in May. The prices ranged from 17p to 150p.

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