As the various year-end securities litigation studies have all shown, cases against financial services companies have dominated securities lawsuit filings for the last several years. But throughout that period, the plaintiffs’ attorneys have also continued to pursue claims against companies in other industries, particularly companies in the life sciences sector. A recent memorandum from 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 securities lawsuits that were filed against life sciences companies in 2009.


According to the memo, there were 19 life sciences companies sued in securities class action lawsuits in 2009, representing roughly 10% of all 2009 securities suits. The 2009 filings against life sciences companies represents a slight decline from the 23 that were filed in 2008, but the proportion of all filings as the same, as the 23 filing in 2008 also represented about 10% of all filing. These proportions are slightly down from but roughly equal with the immediately preceding years – 14% in 2007, 13% in 2006 and 16% in 2005.


Consistent with prior years, the majority of 2009 life sciences company filings (12 out of 19) were brought against companies with market capitalizations under $250 million. This is roughly proportionate to the representation of companies of that size among all life sciences companies, as companies with market capitalizations under $250 million represent about 65% of all life sciences companies.


By contrast to prior years, but perhaps consistent with the overall economic environment, the 2009 life sciences lawsuits were more focused on allegations of financial improprieties rather than claims of misrepresentations involving industry-specific issues such as product safety or efficacy. Nine of the nineteen cases involved allegations of accounting improprieties, compared to six alleging misrepresentations involving product safety and six involving the prospects for or timing of FDA approval.


One particularly interesting section of the memorandum is its analysis of the current status of the securities lawsuits that were filed against life sciences companies in 2007. The memo reports that of the 25 life sciences lawsuits filed that year, 13 (or more than half) have either been dismissed or had summary judgment entered for the defense. As the memo notes this is "an exceptionally high rate of dismissals" (compared, for example, to the historical norms of securities lawsuit dismissals in the 33-40% range).


According to the memo, this dismissal rate suggests that "the securities fraud complaints brought against life sciences companies (at least in 2007) were not particularly well founded." The basis for dismissal of a majority of the dismissed cases was the plaintiffs’ failure to adequately plead scienter.


The memo includes a reference to the possibility, based on statements of DoJ officials, of life sciences companies’ increased exposure to FCPA enforcement proceedings, which also includes the possibility of civil litigation following on in the wake of disclosures of FCPA actions.


The memo’s analysis of the outcomes of the 2007 cases squares with my own perception that life sciences companies are frequently sued, perhaps more frequently than other companies, but that plaintiffs’ lawyers often have a hard time making the allegations stick. The memos analysis suggests that even if life sciences companies are sued more frequently than companies in other industries, the claims against life science companies may be dismissed more frequently as well.


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