SkyePharma chairman and founder Ian Gowrie-Smith announced his resignation this morning in the face of intense pressure from disgruntled shareholders to stand down.

The rebel investors, including North Atlantic Value and two other groups which collectively own 13% of SkyePharma, asked on Friday for an extraordinary general meeting so they could propose their own candidate to replace Gowrie-Smith.

The NAV syndicate are planning to put forward Bob Thian, currently chairman of filtration company Whatman and a former executive of GlaxoSmithKline and Abbott Laboratories, as their candidate. SkyePharma has said it will resist any efforts to force a director onto the board.

Gowrie-Smith, who had already been planning to quit the company, decided to go in order to relieve pressure on SkyePharma and put an end to media speculation that has been ‘damaging to the company's business and to the interests of shareholders’, according to the company. He follows in the footsteps of CEO Michael Ashton, who also plans to leave the firm this year.

Gowrie-Smith stepped down from the role of executive chairman to a non-executive chairmanship in 2004, and decided in early 2005 to continue this process by resigning at ‘an appropriate time’, both as chairman and as a director. A new chairman will be appointed at the company's next board meeting, on February 1.

SkyePharma started looking into the possibility of selling all or part of the company last November, after receiving a merger approach from fellow UK firm Innovata.

The companies have since backed away from this proposed link-up, though SkyePharma said last week it is still in discussions with potential buyers, and there have been suggestions that the likely outcome of this could be the sale of some part of the business with a retained portion headed up by a new chief executive.

SkyePharma’s share price was up a little under 2% in mid-morning trading to 44.75 pence.