Associate feature: Phasing out animal testing would benefit Scotland
In 2004 the BMJ published an article questioning the clinical relevance of animal experiments, and the Journal of the National Cancer Institute reported that: “Change is needed. Thirty years of experience with subcutaneous xenografts, human tumours implanted under the skin of the mouse, have satisfied few because so many drugs that cure cancer in these mice fail to help humans.”
In 2014 the BMJ published an editorial reiterating the question of their 2004 article, noting that there were flaws in how animal research was being conducted, but concluding that even if such research was executed flawlessly, “our ability to predict human responses from animal models will be limited by interspecies differences in molecular and metabolic pathways.”
On Monday 25 October 2021, Martyn Day, SNP MP, mentioned these articles in his speech opening a debate in the House of Commons, responding to two petitions calling for an end to animal testing, a call which he echoed.
He also noted how many people care about this issue, a point that is reflected in the results of a YouGov poll conducted in March 2021 for Cruelty-Free International: that 76 per cent of Scottish adults agreed that support for alternative methods should be prioritised in science and innovation funding, and 62 per cent agreed that deadlines should be set to phase out animal testing.
Such a phase out is necessary. The continued use of animal testing is compromising human health, stymieing science and innovation, causing suffering to millions of animals, and missing strategic opportunities for Scotland’s economy.
As noted in the prestigious medical journals already mentioned, results from animal tests translate poorly to humans.
There are a range of cutting-edge New Approach Methodologies (NAMs) already available, such as organ-on-a-chip technologies, that provide human relevant results and the potential to accelerate advances in human healthcare. Continuing to focus on outdated animal tests negates that potential.
Despite this, Great Britain has the highest rate of animal tests per capita in Europe; in 2020, 3.88 million experiments were carried out (this number would have been higher if research activity was not restricted by two national lockdowns).
Over 500,000 experiments are carried out in Scotland annually, on many species including rabbits, dogs and Cynomolgus monkeys. In most cases experiments are not legally required.
The lives and deaths of sentient beings should weigh more heavily during decision making.
Public acceptance of animal testing is dependent on the belief that it is necessary for advances in human health; this is now being shown to be a false perception.
A phase out of animal experimentation is not only necessary, but also possible, and Scotland, with its world leading universities, pharmaceutical companies, and life sciences sector, is well-placed to lead such a paradigm shift.
Innovation is already ongoing in Scotland; for example, there is a team at University of Dundee who have created a skin culture that mimics living skin and can be used for pharmaceutical testing, and researchers at the University of Glasgow have developed a way to test novel Leukaemia treatments on stem cells instead of mice.
The benefits of New Approach Methodologies are not only scientific and ethical, but also economic.
A report by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr), which was commissioned by Animal Free Research UK, estimates that in 2019, the UK NAMs industry contributed £2.3 billion in turnover and £592 million in Gross Value Added (GVA) to the British economy. It also suggests that NAMs are an area with high growth potential.
Countries around the world are already convinced that non-animal, human relevant science is the way forward.
The Dutch Government is bringing together stakeholders from academia, industry, government and the third sector, via the Transition Programme for Innovation without the use of animals (TPI).
In the USA both the Environmental Protection Agency and Food and Drug Administration are pursuing rapid replacement of animal testing.
In September 2021 the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling on the European Commission to establish an EU-wide Action Plan for the active phase-out of the use of animals in experiments.
Given the right promotion, resourcing, skills development, and collaboration, Scotland could also begin the rapid replacement of animal testing.
During the recent Westminster debate, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, George Freeman, giving the Government response, mentioned a ‘quiet revolution’ that is taking place as drug discovery converts to modern, human relevant methods.
The revolution must not remain quiet: governments should give it prominence and reject the bureaucracy and scientific conservatism holding us to outdated, unethical, and ineffective science.