Under-pressure Actelion has nominated two heavyweight pharmaceutical executives, including ex-GlaxoSmithKline boss Jean-Pierre Garnier, to join the board after dissident shareholder Elliott Advisors repeated calls for changes in managememnt and strategy.

Dr Garnier is scheduled to become vice chairman following the Swiss biotech's annual general meeting on May 5 and will set to replace Robert  Cawthorn, who has been criticised by Elliott, as chairman in 2012. Mr Cawthorn said that "thanks to his judgment, charisma and experience he made the integration of Glaxo Wellcome and SmithKline Beecham a true success" and "his operational and financial expertise is respected across the industry".

Dr Garnier said that "I’m very impressed with the company’s track record and where it stands today as Europe's largest biopharmaceutical company". He added that "Actelion's track record in translating superior drug discovery into meaningful therapeutic solutions is very exciting" and "I look forward to contributing to guiding the company through the next phase of growth".

The other nominee is Robert Bertolini, former chief financial officer at Schering-Plough (2003-2009), who previously worked for 20 years with PriceWaterhouseCoopers. He acted as a senior advisor to companies such as Merck & Co and Johnson & Johnson.

The announcement follows a statement from Elliott, which has a near-6% holding in Actelion, which reiterated the hedge fund's complaint about the "fundamanetal shortcomings" of the board in terms of maximising shareholder value. Elliott has proposed six candidates for a new board, headed by James Shannon, a former global head of pharma development at Novartis and they have issued a letter to stockholders.

In it, they note Actelion has stated that "our primary objective is to seek a sale of the company, with our election to the board amounting to shareholders giving up control of the company to Elliott without them paying for it. This is completely untrue". They add that "we have been clear from the outset that we are independent of Elliott, that if elected we would represent all shareholders, and that our stated intention is to de-risk the company through a rigorous assessment of the options open to Actelion".

The candidates conclude by saying that "all options should be on the table and a sale of the company, although one option, will not necessarily be the best one going forward".