BRITISH BIOTECH yesterday raised the prospect of a settlement of the damaging legal battle with the sacked whistleblower Andrew Millar as it unveiled a radical shift in its drug development strategy.
The troubled biotechnology company also revealed that it would extend three trials for its star anti-cancer drug Marimastat by up to year, with results expected between 2001 and 2002, at an extra cost of $2.5m (pounds 1.6m).
Elliot Goldstein, the recently appointed chief executive, said the company did not rule out an out-of-court settlement with Dr Millar, the former director of clinical research.
Dr Goldstein, a former SmithKline Beecham executive who took over from Dr Millar's arch-rival Keith McCullagh in September, said: "If it could be done in reasonable fashion, obviously we would want to do so. I wouldn't rule out the possibility." The company has come under pressure from a number of shareholders to settle the case and concentrate on its clinical work.
British Biotech sacked Dr Millar in April for lifting the secrecy on two trials of the company's star drugs Marimastat and Zacutex, for pancreatitis, and discussing its findings with some investors.
The dismissal triggered a huge row between Dr Millar and Dr McCullagh, which led to a plunge in British Biotech's share price and undermined investors' confidence in the rest of the sector.
Separately, British Biotech announced the closure of its marketing operations and said it wanted to pursue partnerships with big pharmaceutical groups to develop and sell its products. The decision is a complete departure from Dr McCullagh's strategy of creating a "new Glaxo". Together with the closure of a laboratory in Oxford, it will lead to 28 redundancies and create annual cost savings of around pounds 2.5m a year.
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