LONDON — The new year brought with it new bosses for two U.K. biotechnology companies, both of which have been searching for chief executives for more than a year.

Prolifix Ltd., of Abingdon, appointed Peter Lewis, formerly director of research and development at British Biotech plc, while Therexsys Ltd., of Keele, named David Bloxham, who was chief operating officer of Celltech plc, of Slough.

The two companies share common origins, having been set up by the U.K. Medical Research Council.

Prolifix, which focuses on small-molecule drugs that modulate the cell cycle, has not had a permanent CEO since it was established in 1994. Lewis told BioWorld International that since leaving British Biotech he has had lots of job offers. "What attracted me to Prolifix was its very good science and the company is moving into new, purpose-built laboratories," he said

He was further drawn by Prolifix's focus on small molecules. "As a pharma man I find small molecules attractive because they are easy to manufacture and can be taken by mouth," he added. "This makes a whole load of difference to [the ease of] commercialization."

Prolifix raised £5.4 million in a second-round private placement in June 1997. Lewis said the company will seek to go public at some point, but there are "sufficient funds for quite a period."

Therexsys, a gene therapy company formed in 1992 around technology from the Medical Research Council and the Cancer Research Campaign, has been without a permanent chief executive since July 1996.

Bloxham told BioWorld International he was attracted to the company because he believes there will be an enormous market based on the delivery of protein-based drugs. "Gene therapy is a very challenging area," he observed, "but to me it is the mechanism of delivering the biological drugs of the future."

Therexsys, which has 50 employees, raised £22.5 million in its second fund raising round in May 1996. Bloxham said there is enough of this money left for the company "to be reasonably well funded for a period."