Actelion enlists former Big Pharma execs

Aiming to defend itself from activist shareholder Elliott Advisers, Actelion has tapped two Big Pharma heavyweights to serve on its board. Former GlaxoSmithKline chief Jean-Pierre Garnier has been tapped as vice chairman--and heir apparent to the chairman's job. Robert Bertolini, former CFO of Schering-Plough, was also nominated to serve on the board.

Garnier, who stepped down as Glaxo CEO in 2008, ran GSK when it entered into an insomnia-drug deal with Actelion (which was later dropped). After he left GSK, Garnier ran the French pharma and cosmetics firm Pierre Fabre from 2008 to 2010, meanwhile serving on several company boards. He's now chairman of the U.S. biotech company NormOxys, and operating partner at the private equity firm Advent International.

If elected to Actelion's board, Garnier would take over as Actelion chairman in 2012, replacing Robert Cawthorn, who's come in for some heavy criticism from Elliott. "The move is clearly designed to neutralise the campaign by Elliott by showing that the company is taking action," Kepler Capital Markets analyst Taro Weckworth said (as quoted by Reuters). "Attacks against the 'weak chairman' will now be somewhat off-target."

Meanwhile, however, Elliott has nominated its own slate of six directors, including former Novartis executive James Shannon. Elliott has been agitating for change at Actelion, including a possible sale. Shareholders are scheduled to vote at the annual meeting May 5.

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