Actelion nominates pharma veterans to board

By Katie Reid

ZURICH (Reuters) – Actelion Ltd (ATLN.VX: Quote, Profile, Research) is nominating two pharmaceutical industry veterans to join the board at its May 5 annual meeting as it resists calls from hedge fund Elliott Advisors to consider selling up.

The Swiss biotech group has come under fire from Elliott, its largest shareholder, for eroding shareholder value and the New York-based fund has urged Actelion to consider putting itself up for sale after a spate of product setbacks last year.

Elliott, which holds nearly 6 percent of the $7 billion group, has also proposed six new board members to the Actelion board and called for chief executive Jean-Paul Clozel and chairman Robert Cawthorn to step down from the board.

Actelion struck back on Wednesday by proposing Jean-Pierre Garnier, GlaxoSmithKline’s (GSK.L: Quote, Profile, Research) first CEO, and Robert Bertolini, the former chief financial officer of Schering-Plough, to join its board.

“The nominees are very high-profile pharmaceutical executives and this move will be useful for the company at the AGM on 5 May,” said Kepler Capital Markets analyst Tero Weckroth.

“However, we continue to believe that a vote in favor of the current board cannot be taken for granted. For investors, the risk-reward profile of Actelion shares remains attractive,” he added.

Clozel was quoted as saying in an interview on Tuesday that the group would not cling to independence if this did not generate shareholder value.

If elected, Garnier would share the position of vice chairman with Joseph Scodari with a view to ultimately succeeding Cawthorn, when his term ends next year.

“Thanks to his judgment, charisma, experience and energy, he (Garnier) made the integration of GlaxoWellcome and SmithKline Beecham a true success, creating the world’s second largest pharmaceutical group at the time,” Cawthorn said in a statement.

Bertolini has also held various senior management and board director roles for more than 20 at pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies.

“We believe that both nominees are uniquely qualified to help Actelion realize the value inherent in its business as the company advances its well-balanced, late-stage pipeline and enters the next phase of its development,” Cawthorn said.

Actelion shares were trading 0.8 percent lower at 0740 GMT, underperforming a 0.1 percent drop in the European healthcare index. (.SXDP: Quote, Profile, Research)

(Reporting by Katie Reid; editing by Ben Hirschler)

Actelion nominates pharma veterans to board