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Wednesday, 17 January, 2001, 13:14 GMT
Shares in animal tests firm surge
Animal rights activists protest outside an HLS meeting
Animal rights protesters are targeting the firm and its backers
Shares in Huntingdon Life Sciences, the research firm which animal rights protesters have helped drive to the verge of receivership, have surged on funding hopes.

Shares in the firm almost doubled in morning trade on Wednesday on news that the government has held last minute talks with the company's financial backers.

HLS has delayed repayment of 22.5m in loans from lenders to allow time for arranging alternative financing.

The firm is currently seeking its fourth extension to repayment of the loan, which was originally due to have been repaid by the end of August.

Closure threat

The government has confirmed that Lord Sainsbury, science minister, has spoken twice to Royal Bank of Scotland, which, with two unnamed US banks, is among major lenders to HLS.

Failure to extend the latest repayment deadline from Friday could spell receivership for the company, which employs 1,200 people at its UK headquarters near Cambridge.

The firm, which operated at a loss of 1.9m for the third quarter, has found efforts to raise funding hindered by action from animal rights activists.

Protesters against HLS's use of animals in testing products such as medicines, foodstuffs and weedkillers have campaigned against the firm and its backers in a drive to force closure.

Protest campaign

Campaigners organised by the pressure group Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty have picketed the company and its customers, and held protests in the City.

The SHAC website urges campaigners to "get outside and inside" branches of RBS and NatWest in an effort to persuade the banks' customers to close accounts.

"RBS/ NatWest... must learn that to betray the animals inside HLS is a decision they will regret for years to come," the SHAC website said on Wednesday.

The site also includes a list of HLS customers and shareholders, and directors of NatWest and RBS, including address details.

Anti-vivisection extremists have firebombed the cars of HLS employees and issued death threats, prompting the government to consider extending police powers.

Government backing

The government has supported the work of HLS as necessary to ensuring the safety of products such as drugs, herbicides and food additives for humans.

"This is a legitimate industry and what's more there are thousands of jobs dependent on it," a spokesman for Prime Minister Tony Blair said on Tuesday.

"We do not want to drive these industries abroad to other countries where the regulations might not be as strict."

In the City, shares in Huntingdon Life Sciences stood 2.5 pence up at 5.25p at 1130 GMT.

The shares reached 113p in March 1997.

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