Surprise new British Biotech chief

BRITISH BIOTECH, the troubled drug development company, yesterday ended its long quest for a chairman with the surprise appointment of a Canadian-born businessman with little experience of the pharmaceutical industry.

Christopher Hampson, 66, the chairman of building materials producer RMC, will replace John Raisman when he retires at the end of September. Mr Hampson, seen as an heavyweight City player, is set to receive a pay package of around pounds 70,000, in line with his predecessor's wages.

Mr Raisman headed the company during its most turbulent period. He sided with Dr Keith McCullagh, the outgoing chief executive, in the battle with Dr Andrew Millar, the sacked head of clinical trials. Dr Millar has repeatedly accused Dr McCullagh of issuing overoptimistic statements over the progress of two of the company's star drugs.

Mr Raisman's retirement was widely expected in view of his age, but no one predicted Mr Hampson's appointment.

The company yesterday insisted that Mr Hampson, who has been chairman of Yorkshire Electricity and chief executive of the Australian division of ICI, the chemical group, was its first choice. Mr Hampson told The Independent yesterday that he was "dubious" when first approached a month ago because of the publicity generated by the Millar affair. However, he said he was persuaded to accept after meeting "the good people and seeing the good technology" British Biotech has.

He admitted he had little pharmaceutical experience but said his role would be to manage and co-ordinate the company's resources, leaving the scientific work to the experts. Mr Hampson said the main challenge would be to rebuild investor confidence, which is at a low ebb following the Millar-McCullagh feud. The company's share price is trading near its all- time low.

His other task will be to appoint a chief executive to replace Dr McCullagh, who is to leave in September. He said he was looking for someone "who knows the industry, is a strong leader and can pull a team together". The company hopes to make a choice in September.