BioWorld International Correspondent
LONDON - The UK Biotechnology Industry Association wrote to the New York Stock Exchange to express "astonishment and disappointment" at the decision to pull the listing of Life Sciences Research Inc., the U.S. embodiment of the animal testing company Huntingdon Life Sciences, less than half an hour before the stock was due to begin trading Sept. 7.
In a letter to NYSE President Catherine Rinney, Aisling Burnand, CEO of the Biotechnology Industry Association (BIA) criticized "the incredibly negative message" the postponement - and the way it was announced - sends to UK and European companies considering listing on the exchange, and offered to meet Rinney to discuss BIA's experience in dealing with animal rights extremists. "I don't believe for a moment that dealing with these activists is anywhere on the scale of the threat the [NYSE] had to deal with post 9/11, or is facing from al Qaeda," Burnand told BioWorld International.
BIA has been in contact also with its U.S. counterpart, the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), to make a concerted response. "Obviously [BIO] has very good links with the NYSE and can do more on the ground there," Burnand said.
James Greenwood, president and CEO of BIO, said, "I am dismayed that biomedical research has taken a back seat to the pressure tactics of animal extremists."
The NYSE is refusing to explain its decision for pulling the listing, which was imparted to executives of Life Sciences Research by Rinney as they waited for the bell to sound at the start of trading.
Ray Pellechia, NYSE press spokesman for corporate affairs, told BioWorld International he could not comment on when or why the decision was made to postpone, or when the situation will be reassessed.
"If you don't know the grounds for withdrawal it is very difficult to push the situation forward now," Burnand said. "[The NYSE] could turn around and say [Life Sciences Research] didn't fill in a form properly, but it seems unlikely the president of the exchange would be the messenger in that case."
Although it refused to acknowledge the decision was due to pressure from activists, NYSE employees and associated companies have been targeted since the acceptance of Life Sciences Research's listing application on Aug. 22. The animal rights groups Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) and Win Animal Rights (WAR) published contact details of NYSE employees on their websites and asked supporters to email and call them to "question the financial probity of the company [Life Sciences Research]." WAR claims it alerted 10,000 supporters to take that action.
There also are links from the SHAC U.S. website detailing paint attacks on two yacht clubs in the New York area whose members include employees of one company planning to make a market in Life Science Research shares. The vandalism was claimed by the Animal Liberation Front, which threatened similar action against anyone involved in trading the shares.
While she acknowledged there was a threat, Burnand said the decision to pull the IPO set an extremely dangerous precedent that could jeopardize not only future listings of bioscience companies, but any company that attracted a protest group. "You don't capitulate, because if you do, you make a rod for your own back," she said.
Burnand added that NYSE would have no excuse in saying it was not prepared for animal rights protests when it accepted Life Science Research's application. "Assessing such threats should be part of due diligence, and if there is a problem, measures should be put in place to deal with it," she said.
The postponement is a blow for Life Sciences Research, of East Millstone, N.J., which viewed the listing as a key step toward normalizing its position after extremists forced its predecessor, Huntington Life Sciences, to delist from the London Stock Exchange and stop trading American depository receipts on NYSE in 2001. The company is traded on Nasdaq's Over-the-Counter Bulletin Board.