UK drug delivery firm SkyePharma has issued a stinging rebuttal against a group of dissident shareholders, claiming that the group is trying to wrest control of the company from the board.

The rebels, including investment fund North Atlantic Value, are trying to replace SkyePharma’s just-appointed chairman Jerry Karabelas with Rob Thian, a candidate of their own choosing who is currently chairman of filtration group Whatman.

The group, which has been angered by SkyePharma’s failure to find a buyer when it put itself up for sale last year and a deeply discounted rights issue, is pulling no punches in its criticism of the current management team.

Among its allegations ae that SkyePharma’s management has been profligate in its spending, particularly with regard to premises it leases in New York and London, and that investments had been made in companies in which SkyePharma directors had personal interests or served as board members.

SkyePharma issued an 11-page statement yesterday in which it refuted these allegations in robust terms.

“NAV offer no substance, no strategy, just distortion,” said Karabelas. “NAV would destroy SkyePharma with an 18 month review when new management is already moving the company forward rapidly.”

He insisted that NAV is not simply trying to make ‘housekeeping’ changes. “It remains the firm opinion of the board that it continues to be the intention to change the control of the company.”

NAV and its collaborators are canvassing hard in support of Mr Thian ahead of an extraordinary general meeting next Thursday at which he will officially stand for election. But SkyePharma’s board slammed Thian’s track record, saying he ‘lacks the technical training, current experience or high-level managerial contacts’ that it feels are essential qualifications to serve as chairman of the group.