Huntingdon Life Sciences
Huntingdon Life Sciences' official logo
|Industry||Contract research organisation for the pharmaceutical, biopharmaceutical, crop protection, chemical, veterinary and food industries.|
Number of locations
|United Kingdom, United States, Japan|
|Brian Cass, Managing Director|
Number of employees
|Website||Huntingdon Life Sciences|
Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS) is a contract research organisation (CRO) founded in 1951 in Cambridgeshire, England. It has two laboratories in the United Kingdom and one in the United States. With over 1600 staff, it is now the largest non-clinical CRO in Europe. In September 2015, Huntingdon Life Sciences, Harlan Laboratories, GFA, NDA Analytics and LSR associates merged into Envigo.
In 2009, HLS was bought outright and is now in private ownership. Prior to this, the latest Annual Report (2008) showed that the company had revenues of $US242.4m and an Operating Profit of 14.8%.
Although HLS is the third-largest non-clinical CRO in the world, it is probably better known to the general public as the target of a high-profile animal rights campaign. The campaign, in the main, has been orchestrated by the animal rights group Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC).
Huntingdon Life Sciences was founded in the UK in 1951 as Nutrition Research Co. Ltd., a commercial organisation that initially focused on nutrition, veterinary, and biochemical research. The original facilities were split over two locations; the main offices were within Cromwell House in the town of Huntingdon, Cambs, UK; and the main laboratories were at the Hartford Field Station (just over a mile away). It then became involved with pharmaceuticals, food additives, and industrial and consumer chemicals. In 1959 it changed its name to Nutritional Research Unit Ltd. The company benefited in the early 1960s from increased government regulatory testing requirements, especially in the pharmaceutical industry. In 1964 it was acquired by the U.S. medical supply firm of Becton Dickinson.
In April 1983, Becton Dickinson created Huntingdon Research Centre PLC. It then offered four million American depositary receipts (ADRs) for sale at $15 each, representing the company's entire interest in Huntingdon. In 1985, as it began to expand its operations, the company changed its name to Huntingdon International Holdings plc. In that year it established Huntingdon Analytical Services Inc. to conduct business in the United States.
To augment its CRO business, Huntingdon acquired Minnesota's Twin City Testing Laboratory Inc. and affiliated companies in 1985, followed by the acquisition of Nebraska Testing Corporation in 1986; Travis Laboratories and Kansas City Test Laboratory Inc. in 1989; and Southwestern Laboratories, Inc. in 1990. Huntingdon also diversified its operations, primarily in the United States, becoming involved in engineering and environmental services.
In 1987, HLS purchased Northern Engineering and Testing, Inc., and then in 1988 bought Empire Soils Investigations Inc., Chen Associates Inc., and Asteco Inc. In 1988 HLS was floated on the London Stock Exchange and in 1989 obtained a listing on the New York Stock Exchange. In 1990 Huntingdon acquired the St. Louis branch of Envirodyne Engineers Inc. and Whiteley Holdings Ltd. And in 1991 it acquired Austin Research Engineers, Inc., followed by Travers Morgan Ltd.
By the early 1990s, Huntingdon was organised into three business groups: the Life Sciences Group, the Engineering/Environmental Group, and the Travers Morgan Group, which offered engineering and environmental consulting services outside of the United States. However, only the Life Sciences Group showed long-term promise. Travers Morgan was allowed to lapse into insolvency, control passed into other hands, and Huntingdon wrote off the investment. In 1995 the engineering and environmental businesses were sold to Maxim Engineers Inc. of Dallas, Texas.
To bolster its CRO business and reinforce its U.S. presence, Huntingdon in 1995 acquired the toxicology business of Applied Biosciences International for $32.5 million in cash, plus the Leicester Clinical Research Centre. The deal not only included a U.S. laboratory located near Princeton, New Jersey, it brought with it two British facilities as well. In 1997 Huntingdon International Holdings changed its name to Huntingdon Life Sciences Group. The U.K. subsidiary, Huntingdon Research Centre, changed its name to Huntingdon Life Sciences Ltd., while the U.S. business operated as Huntingdon Life Sciences Inc.
In 2009, HLS was bought outright and once again is in private ownership.
HLS provides Contract Research Organisation services in pre-clinical and non-clinical biological safety evaluation research. As with other major CROs operating in this business area, its major business is serving the pharmaceutical industry. However, more than a third of its business comes from non-pharmaceutical sources, the most important of which is the crop protection industry which accounts for around 60% of their non-pharmaceutical business.
The latest available public figures from 2008 show that HLS employs more than 1600 staff across all of its facilities. They break down as:
Trade bodies and associations
- Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) 
- Bioindustry Association (BIA) 
- Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care (AAALAC) 
- Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC)
- Fund for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments (FRAME) 
- Institute of Animal Technology (IAT)
- Understanding Animal Research (UAR) 
Honours and awards
Use of animals
HLS uses animals in the biomedical research it conducts for its customers. The most recent numbers released state that in the UK around 60,000 animals are used annually. This number is broken down by species:
Huntingdon is criticised by animal rights and animal welfare groups for using animals in research, for instances of animal abuse and for the wide range of substances it tests on animals, particularly non-medical products. It is claimed by SHAC that 500 animals died every day at HLS (182,500 a year), a figure at odds with HLS' published numbers.
In 1997, film secretly recorded inside HLS in the UK by BUAV and subsequently broadcast on Channel 4 television as "It's a Dog's Life", showed serious breaches of animal-protection laws, including a beagle puppy being held up by the scruff of the neck and repeatedly punched in the face, and animals being taunted.
The laboratory technicians responsible were suspended from HLS the day after the broadcast. All three were later fired. Two of the men seen hitting and shaking dogs were found guilty under the Animals Act of 1911 of "cruelly terrifying dogs." It was the first time laboratory technicians had been prosecuted for animal cruelty in the UK. HLS admitted that the technicians' behaviour was deplorable and a new management team was introduced the following year which, according to The Daily Telegraph, "introduced greater openness and new training methods."
In 1998, an undercover investigator for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) used a camera hidden in her glasses to make 50 hours of videotape of the HLS laboratories in Princeton, New Jersey. She also made four 90-minute audiotapes, photocopied 8,000 company documents, and copied the company's client list. According to PETA some of the film she shot showed a monkey being dissected while still alive and conscious. The president of HLS in New Jersey, Alan Staple, said the monkey was alive but sedated during the dissection.
HLS obtained a "gagging order" in the US that prevents PETA from publicising or talking about any of the information that they discovered. The order also prevented PETA from communicating with the American Department of Agriculture, which had been going to investigate the evidence.
Protests and intimidation
The Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) campaign is based in the UK and US, and has aimed to close the company down since 1999. According to its website, the campaign's methods are restricted to non-violent direct action, as well as lobbying and demonstrations. It targets not only HLS itself, but any company, institution, or person allegedly doing business with the laboratory, whether as clients, suppliers, or even disposal and cleaning services, and the employees of those companies.
Despite its stated non-violent position, SHAC members have been convicted of crimes of violence against HLS employees. On 25 October 2010 five SHAC members received prison sentences for threatening HLS staff. SHAC has also been accused of encouraging arson and violent assault. An HLS director was assaulted in front of his child. HLS managing director Brian Cass was sent a mousetrap primed with razor blades, and in February 2001 was attacked by three men armed with pickaxe handles and CS gas. Another businessman with links to HLS was attacked and knocked unconscious adjacent to a barn his assailants had set alight.
Both SHAC and Animal Liberation Front activists have engaged in harassment and intimidation, including issuing hoax bomb threats and death threats. The Daily Mail cites as an example the sending of 500 letters to the neighbours of a company manager who did business with HLS; the letter contained an unsupported allegation that the man was a paedophile, with police having to inform all 500 households that the allegations were false.
In 2008 seven of SHAC's senior members were described by prosecutors as "some of the key figures in the Animal Liberation Front" and found guilty of conspiracy to blackmail HLS.
Effect of campaign
The campaign against HLS led to its share price crashing, the Royal Bank of Scotland closing its bank account, and the British government arranging for the Bank of England to give them an account. The company's share price, worth around £300 in the 1990s fell to £1.75 in January 2001, stabilizing at 3 pence by mid-2001. In 2000, HLS was dropped from the New York Stock Exchange because of its market capitalization had fallen below NYSE limits.
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From 2006, The Daily Telegraph reports, the British Government took the decision to tackle "the problem of animal rights extremism." On 1 May 2007, a police campaign called Operation Achilles was enacted against SHAC, a series of raids involving 700 police officers in England, Amsterdam, and Belgium. In total, 32 people linked to the group were arrested, and seven leading members of SHAC, including Greg Avery, were found guilty of blackmail. Police estimate that, as a consequence of the operation, "up to three quarters of the most violent activists" are jailed. Der Spiegel writes that the number of attacks on HLS and their business declined drastically but "the movement is by no means dead."
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