In prior posts (most recently here), I discussed the fact that while litigation against the financial sector has predominated recent securities lawsuit filings, plaintiffs’ attorneys also have targeted other sectors, including in particularly the life sciences sector. An April 2009 memorandum by David Kotler of the Dechert law firm entitled "Dechert Survey of Securities Fraud Class Actions Brought Against Life Sciences Companies" (here) takes a closer look at the 2008 life sciences securities lawsuits and analyzes the allegations on which the claims are based.


The memo notes that the 23 securities lawsuits filed against life sciences companies in 2008 is about the same number as the 25 life sciences securities lawsuits filed in 2007. However, the report also notes that the 2008 life sciences securities lawsuit filings represented only 10% of all securities lawsuit filings during the year, compared to 14% in 2007. The report attributes this slight drop to the fact that securities lawsuits in the financial sector "skyrocketed" in 2008.


The memo reports that, similarly to prior years, half of the life sciences companies sued in 2008 were very small, with market capitalizations below $250 million. However, by contrast to 2007, when nearly half of the life sciences companies sued had market capitalizations greater than $10 billion, on 2008 "only 13% of total actions were brought against the largest companies."


With respect to the allegations raised in the new lawsuits, the memo notes that in 2008, the majority of claims "pertained to accounting improprieties and/or misstated or misleading financial results and forecasts, by comparison to the 2007 filings, where industry-specific issues such as product safety, efficacy or marketing predominated.


The memo does note that about 25% of the 2008 filings contained allegations of alleged misrepresentations or nondisclosure regarding the commercialization or marketing of the product, and about 25% alleged that the defendants had made false and misleading statements about the safety of their product.


The memo also notes that one trend observed in 2007 had continued in 2008; that is, the plaintiffs’ lawyers are continuing to include key research personnel as defendants, on the apparent theory that these individuals "had a high level position within the company and access to internal information," and therefore "they knew and failed to disclose the allged adverse non-public information." The memo reports that key research personnel were named as defendants in five of the 23 life sciences securities lawsuits filed in 2008.


With respect to the likelihood of future litigation in the sector, the memo notes that life sciences companies "are particularly vulnerable to securities lawsuits because of their inherently volatile stock prices, often driven by a drug or device product life cycle that is fraught with potential for adverse and unpredictable events." That vulnerability "may increase in coming months and years when the boom of securities class actions in the financial sector busts." The memo speculates that "once plaintiffs’ targets in the financial sector dry up, other sectors, including life sciences, may see an increase in lawsuits aimed their way."


In discussing the 2007 version of Dechert’s life sciences securities litigation report, I had raised (here) the question whether or not the numerous lawsuits against life sciences companies actually were successful, and in particular, I asked whether or not the cases were dismissed more frequently than other securities lawsuits. The 2008 Dechert memo addresses these questions by taking a look at how the 2007 life sciences securities lawsuits have fared so far.


The 2008 memo reports that of the 25 life sciences securities lawsuits filed in 2007, eleven have been dismissed and two have settled. The memo states that the two settlements are "within the standard range" for securities lawsuit settlements generally, and that the dismissal rate "mirrors that of securities class actions in general."


The dismissals largely have been based on the plaintiffs’ failure to fulfill the requirements for pleading scienter. The memo comments that "though plaintiffs may be given multiple opportunities to amend their complaints, they will not be able to survive a motion to dismiss with general, conclusory or generic allegations of knowing misconduct."


The Dechert memo’s tally of 23 life sciences securities lawsuits in 2008 squares with my own count. I note that in preparing my count of the life sciences lawsuits, I had used a rather narrow definition of the category, limiting the "life sciences" companies to those either in SIC Code series 283 (Drugs) or SIC Code series 384 (Surgical, Medical and Dental Instruments and Supplies).


The memo, which concludes with practical risk minimization suggestions, is quite good and merits reading at length and in full.


Special thanks to the author of the Dechert memo, David Kotler, for providing me with a copy of the memo.


The Rise and Fall of Bill Lerach: The Professional Liability Underwriting Society (PLUS) has posted its acclaimed video, "The Rise and Fall of Bill Lerach," on the members’ section of its website. PLUS members can access the video here. The video alone might justify cost of membership. A trailer of the video can be found on the Securities Docket site, here.