Embattled UK drug delivery firm SkyePharma named Jerry Karabelas as the replacement for ousted chairman Ian Gowrie-Smith today, putting the firm on a collision course with disgruntled shareholders.

The announcement, made as the firm said it plans to sell off its US injectables business, will likely infuriate the rebel shareholders who have put up their own candidate for the post – and insisted they will accept no other.

Their preferred candidate is Bob Thian, currently chairman of UK-based filtration specialist Whatman and a former executive of GlaxoSmithKline and Abbott Laboratories.

The rebels, headed by investment group North Atlantic Value, are angry that SkyePharma’s management team has failed to find a buyer for the whole business despite placing it on the block last November, and SkyePharma conceded this morning that it has received no suitable offers.

53-year-old Karabelas has a strong track record in the pharmaceutical industry, having been chief executive of Novartis Pharma and president of the North American operations of SmithKline Beecham beforehand. He has been a non-executive director at SkyePharma since 2000.

SkyePharma now intends to concentrate on its oral and pulmonary drug delivery businesses, and try to find a buyer for San Diego-based injectables unit, which has two marketed products – DepoCyt (cytarabine) for lymphomatous meningitis and the painkiller DepoDur (morphine), as well as a pipeline headed by long-acting local anaesthetic Depobupivacaine.