Dissidents say Actelion battle will hinge on institutional investors

With both sides in a bitter brawl over the future of Actelion lining up supporters and drawing up battle plans, Elliott Advisers has mapped out its strategy for wresting away boardroom supremacy. Elliott hired the U.S. consulting group Georgeson to poll investors on who will head to Basel for the biotech's annual meeting May 5. And they have concluded that a group of international institutional investors hold the key to who will control Europe's biggest biotech.

Actelion's management has scored some points in recent days as BB Biotech AG and the Swiss investor Rudolph Mag have offered their support for the biotech, which has bunkered down as it resists Elliott's maneuvers. But Elliott--which has notably won support from Institutional Shareholder Services for three of its candididates--tells the Wall Street Journal that their analysis suggests that they have the upper hand right now. The final tally on which board members are selected will lie with those international institutional investors, Elliott claims.

"In the middle ground and controlling the overall outcome, are up to approximately 18% of predominantly international institutions," an Elliott spokesman told the WSJ.

Both sides have lined up some of Big Pharma's biggest names for their corner. Elliott has put forward ex-Novartis exec James Shannon, who wants to cut R&D spending and see if the company can be sold for a premium. Actelion is putting ex-GSK chief Jean-Pierre Garnier and Schering-Plough's former CFO, Robert Bertolini, on its slate. Actelion got into hot water with Elliott after it experienced a series of R&D setbacks.  

Earlier today Actelion gained another advantage in the war with Elliott, annoucning that the proxy firm Glass Lewis is backing its slate of board candidates.

- read the story from the Wall Street Journal
- here's the Reuters report