On the morning of September 7, Brian Cass, chief executive of contract research firm Huntingdon Life Sciences, was standing in an anteroom of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) chatting to officials, waiting to go onto the floor of the exchange where Huntingdon's US parent company, Life Sciences Research (LSR) was due to be listed. The NYSE listing was being anticipated as a milestone. A few weeks earlier Cass had said in a statement that it was "gratifying that the company's significant growth in revenues, earnings and market capitalization over the past several years has enabled us to achieve this important objective."
But minutes before the bell was rung to begin that morning's trading, a Huntingdon spokesman says that Cass was approached by the president of the exchange, Catherine Kinney, who told him the listing was going to be postponed. She gave no explanation for the delay.
There are some clues, however: Huntingdon has been violently pursued by animal activists for well over a decade. In 2001, it was delisted from the London Stock Exchange after a sustained campaign against its shareholders and brokers. Huntingdon then moved headquarters to New Jersey and became the sole subsidiary of LSR, which is currently traded on NASDAQ's over-the-counter market.
Less than two weeks before the September incident, on August 26, the website of the Animal Liberation Front in the United States carried an anonymous communiqué describing how the Manhasset Bay Yacht Club in Port Washington, New York, had been paid a visit by ALF members and "completely covered with red paint and painted slogans."
The club had been vandalized, the ALF explained, because it was frequented by Walter Carucci and Stephanie L. Bass of Carr securities, a firm that had begun to make a market in shares of LSR.
"Let this be a message to any other company who chooses to court HLS in their 9/7/05 entrance into the NYSE," the activists wrote. "If you trade LSR, make a market for LSR, process orders for LSR, or purchase LSR shares you can expect far worse treatment. The message is simple, DON'T TOUCH HLS!" Days later, Carr Securities withdrew from LSR. A Carr spokesman told
At no point has the NYSE suggested that the postponement was linked to the activism. In fact, by deadline, the NYSE had still not explained to Huntingdon why the listing has been delayed, says the Huntingdon spokesman.
But for bioscience industry groups and politicians, the link has been taken for granted. James C. Greenwood, president and CEO of the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), said in a statement he was "dismayed that biomedical research has taken a backseat to the pressure tactics of animal rights extremists." US Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, wrote in a letter to the exchange that "it seems to me unimaginable that this country's worldwide symbol of the integrity of the capital markets, the NYSE, would capitulate to threats, or even the mere threat of threats, from a single issue extremist group."
Animal rights groups, meanwhile, have trumpeted the delay as a victory. Camille Hankins, of Animal Liberation and Win Animal Rights (WAR), said "Brian Cass may be on Wall Street for the day, but WAR will be there every day after that."