Opara rocks AustCancer, Polartechnics

By Renate Krelle
Tuesday, 01 March, 2005

Who is Richard Opara? That was the question being asked by many industry observers this week, as his name surfaced in connection with two sudden biotech board reshuffles, signalling that a double coup was underway.

Opara -- a 12.76 per cent shareholder at Sydney device company Polartechnics (ASX:PLT) and 19.57 per cent shareholder and non-executive director at AustCancer (ASX:ACU) -- has moved to remove management and grab the reins at both companies.

Last week, Polartechnics told the market that Opara -- the company's only substantial shareholder -- had called for an extraordinary general meeting with resolutions to replace non-executive chairman Colin Sutton and director Neville Hacker with two new directors, himself and Joanne Rees.

That was followed on Friday by the shock resignation of Paul Hopper as CEO and managing director of AustCancer, after one and a half years at the helm of the company. Opara, the company's chairman, said he would take on the role of executive chairman and acting CEO until a new CEO was appointed.

Opara was unavailable for interview by press time. But in a statement, he said that the fact his name was associated with changed at both AustCancer and Polartechnics was purely coincidental and unrelated.

"Too often, clever Australian medical and pharmaceutical products do not reach their full potential, particularly in international markets," he said. "I want to contribute to the further development of AustCancer's and PLT's products because I am a significant investor in them.

"My professional experience as a medical doctor, and then as a businessman, has given me an insight into the possibilities for AustCancer and PLT."

AustCancer was already in a state of flux -- last month it announced plans to move its corporate HQ to San Diego and change its name to Avantogen. Hopper had already moved to San Diego as part the relocation. Shares in the company have fallen around 30 per cent to $0.20 in the last two weeks.

"The US market potential is huge but it requires highly specialised local knowledge," said Opara.

Hopper and Opara have been in business together before. Hopper was formerly managing director of Alpha Healthcare, and Opara was founding executive chairman of the company before it was taken over by Ramsay Healthcare in mid-2001 following struggles with its debt levels.

Two of AustCancer's non-executive directors have also resigned: Sydney-based Katherine Woodthorpe and US-based Alexander Capello. Dr Roger Aston, who chairs AustCancer's scientific advisory board, and CFO Tom Milicevic will continue to lead the company's Sydney-based executive.

Polartechnics shake-up

Polartechnics, which is commercialising screening systems for detection of skin and cervical cancer as well as an image, video and patient data management system, has steadily declined in value since it reached its peak share price of more than AUD$6.00 in February 2000. The share price at the time of writing was $0.35.

"I am proposing certain changes to the board to improve the viability of the company and secure the most efficient development of the company's products," said Opara. "Polartechnics deserves a commercially astute, cohesive board with the right mix of specialist skills to deliver the company's potential."

If director Glen Rosewall is also removed at the Polartechnics EGM, CEO Victor Skladnev will be the sole surviving member of the current board line-up.

In December, the company posted half-year revenues of $3.1 million -- up substantially on the $1.2 million posted for the same period last year. The company hopes to achieve profitability by the end of this calendar year. It also raised $3.195 million in an underwritten placement in early January.

Meanwhile, in its half-year results, AustCancer revealed that sales of its Revisys nutraceuticals had been "disappointing". Revenue fell from $305,000 to $82,445. The company reported a half-year loss of $4.3 million, down from $5 million in the corresponding period last year.

AustCancer is also aiming to reduce its involvement in a joint venture with BioFocus, after the project failed to produce high affinity targets.

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