The founder of SkyePharma, Ian Gowrie-Smith - who was ousted from the UK biotechnology company last month – has brought forward his retirement date and will leave his post of Non-Executive Director immediately, a statement revealed this morning.

The decision was made in light of a rebel set of shareholders’ commitment to placing Bob Thian in the role of Chairman. Mr Thian is currently chairman of filtration company Whatman and a former executive of GlaxoSmithKline and Abbott Laboratories, but SkyePharma is resisting moves to force a director onto the board. In its statement this morning, it said: “It is the Board’s strong opinion that Mr Thian is not suited to this role as he does not have the right experience and because it will conflict with his existing taxing commitments.”

Instead, the firm believes it should continue under the leadership of Jerry Karabelas, former Chief Executive of Novartis Pharma and President of the North American operations of SmithKline Beecham beforehand, who it recently named to the post of non-Executive Chairman. Frank Condella has been named Chief Executive and Dr Ken Cunningham becomes Chief Operating Officer. Frank Condella is a former president of the European operations of generics company IVAX Pharmaceuticals, prior to its acquisition by Teva in 2005. Ken Cunningham was Chief Executive of the UK biotechnology company Arakis, which was recently bought by Japanese company Sosei for $200 million.

SkyePharma came in for criticism after a merger with Innovata failed to come to fruition and no other suitable offers were put forward. Last September, the company was forced to raise £35 million ($62 million) in a discounted rights issue to fund Phase III trials of its respiratory drug Flutiform (formoterol plus fluticasone) after failing to find a partner for the project, disappointing investors who hoped a deal would have advanced SkyePharma's efforts to reach profitability.

But Mr Gowrie-Smith says the decision to pursue Flutiform was the right one. “I am firmly convinced that it was the right decision for SkyePharma to carry out the development of our lead pipeline product. Out-licensing it prematurely to satisfy short term demands would not have been sensible for an asset that we believe has a very good chance of generating sales in excess of $1 billion.” Flutiform is just about to commence its Phase III clinical trial.

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.” He had planned to leave at the Annual General Meeting later on this year, but brought his retirement date forward to “ensure that the only proposal for shareholders to consider is whether Mr Thian is suitable to become Executive Chairman.”