The UK’s Acambis has announced the departure of its chief executive and finance director as well as a restructuring programme which will see a 15% reduction in its workforce.

The news comes as the vaccine maker tries to pick up the pieces following the disappointment of losing out on a smallpox contract with the US government worth $1 billion last November. The company’s steady share price decline has led to the ousting of Gordon Cameron, chief executive since 2004.

He is to be replaced by Ian Garland, former chief financial officer of Arrow Therapeutics which has just been acquired by AstraZeneca and a close colleague of Acambis chairman Peter Fellner when the latter was at the helm of Celltech. Chief finance officer David Lawrence will be replaced on an interim basis by Elizabeth Brown, currently vice president of financial management.

The changes are not just taking place at the top, however, and Acambis outlined restructuring plans which will help it reduce its cost base by around 20% over the next two years. 15% of its 260-strong workforce will be axed and Acambis will spend £3 million this year to achieve this, which will be offset by the savings achieved during the year. The firm added that it expects that this measure will lead to savings of £7 million per annum, with the first full year savings starting in 2008.

Mr Fellner said that the reorganisation will ensure that “Acambis has the right cost base, capabilities and infrastructure to deliver its strategy. We are increasing the effective use of our resources by focusing our activities upon those areas where we believe we can create new shareholder value."

The moves were welcomed by investors and Acambis shares rose amid excitement that the new management will be able to deliver positive changes quickly which would see the firm move away from biodefence and into a wider variety of vaccines. Acquisitions may be in the offing in order to boost its pipeline but analysts also feel that the firm is itself ripe for a takeover.