Associate feature: Scotland agrees - it's time to bring animal experiments to an end
According to the National Records of Scotland, Scotland’s leading causes of death in 2018 were heart disease, Alzheimer’s and other dementias, lung cancer and cerebrovascular disease, including strokes.
These and other major diseases of today remain poorly understood and lack adequate treatments.
It is heartening to see two-thirds of the SNP in Westminster supporting Early Day Motion 256 on Accelerating Human Relevant Life Science, calling for government to provide supportive infrastructure, strategic funding, education, regulatory engagement and collaboration between industries in order to make the UK a global powerhouse in the development of animal free research.
Talking about the success of the motion, backed by the Alliance for Human Relevant Science, one of its original sponsors, Chris Stephens, MP for Glasgow South West, said: “I’m really pleased to see that the overwhelming majority of my SNP colleagues at Westminster have joined me and MPs from all the other parties in calling on the UK government to put in place a plan to drive the replacement of outdated animal experiments with modern, innovative technologies.”
Despite huge investment in research and drug development, a continued lack of effective treatments brings immense suffering, costs lives and places a considerable burden on the healthcare system.
The number of people suffering from Alzheimer’s is expected to triple by 2050 , yet there are no medications to tackle it or slow its progression.
Public Health Scotland says that strokes account for approximately five per cent of total NHS costs. Population growth and ageing is likely to result in a greater number of people at risk of stroke, yet apart from thrombolysis for a minority of stroke patients, there are no specifiic drugs available for targeting acute stroke
Worldwide, annual investment in biomedical research is estimated to exceed $ 100 billion , and a signifiicant proportion continues to be spent on animal experiments meant to investigate disease mechanisms, and gain insight into the efficacy and safety of new medicines.
In 2007, the Medical Research Council (MRC), the UK’s largest funder of biomedical research, invested around a third of its budget in animal research . In 2017, UK research and development spend was £34.8 billion, of which 40% was for basic research, where more animals are used than in any other research category.
Despite substantial funding, animal experiments demonstrate limited relevance to many human diseases. They are also unable to detect many important human adverse drug reactions .
Developing new drugs is complex and time-consuming. Prior to clinical trials, detailed studies are undertaken to explore expected efficacy and safety, typically using animals. Later phases of drug development are conducted in human patients as well as in animals.
These are longer term and more specialised safety studies, mandated by regulatory guidelines. These later phases provide efficacy and safety data prior to licensing a drug for commercial use.
Many promising drugs fail to progress into clinical trials because of unacceptable toxicity in animals . However, the toxicity affecting animals may not manifest in humans, or to the same extent, resulting in potentially valuable medicines being needlessly discarded.
Even drugs which enter clinical trials have only a one in ten (9.6%) chance of progressing to market approval.
In mid and late-stage clinical trials, the majority of failures are due to inadequate efficacy and safety, further emphasising the limited human relevance of animal experiments.
Not only do animal experiments cause suffering to animals in laboratories, they are also not good science. We need a fundamental change of approach.
In a March 2021 YouGov online Scottish poll (1) for Cruelty Free International, 62 % of people in Scotland agreed that deadlines should be set to phase out animal testing; 76% agreed that support for alternative methods should be prioritised in science and innovation funding.
Significant international effort has produced different experimental models that use human cells and reproduce key features of human biology.
These new approach methodologies (NAMs) do not use animals, avoiding the inherent cruelty and the problem of animal-human species differences.
NAMs use advanced in-vitro and in-silico technologies to model diseases, test treatments and investigate biological processes in humans.
Scotland is home to world-leading universities and some of the largest pharmaceutical companies worldwide.
The Scottish Government has identified life sciences as one of six growth sectors where the Government believes the country has a “distinct comparative advantage”.
In 2016, the Scottish Government reported that the Gross Value Added of life sciences was £1.5 billion. That was 17. 7% higher than it had been in 2015. They identified that the sector’s increase was driven by the pharmaceutical industry which had increased 49.3% in that time
With the enormous potential of the New Medicines Manufacturing Innovation Centre to be based in Renfrewshire – Scotland is well paced to spearhead a paradigm shift from outdated, unreliable animal experiments to become a powerhouse of next generation human-relevant medicine.
For example, medical research charity Animal Free Research UK has two successful, long running projects in Scotland.
The University of Dundee’s pioneering work with the Thiel embalming method means those who leave their remains for research and education will soon be helping teach doctors potentially life-saving surgical interventions and validate the testing of new medical devices.
The charity funds staff from the University’s School of Medicine and Centre for Anatomy and
Human Identification to develop a programme for training senior medics. Heart, stroke, kidney and liver patients are among those benefitting from the training clinicians undergo and the devices that are tested using Thiel.
Another project at the University of Aberdeen in collaboration with Breast Cancer UK hopes to identify an effective strategy for preventing breast cancer.
The research explores if hormone disrupting chemicals found in the environment are making the breast more vulnerable to breast cancer and aims to replace two animal models of breast cancer currently by scientists, by using fully humanised animal free models.
To reap this potential, government agencies must take the lead. In the Netherlands, fiive ministries within the Dutch government are collaborating with funders, scientists and businesses to organise conferences, workshops and funding proposals to accelerate the transition to NAMs.
By contrast, progress in the UK is less coordinated and more supportive infrastructure is needed.
A Government-backed body is needed to support and coordinate work of relevant bodies and quangos, academic researchers and biomedical industries.
Such a body should support growth of humane and human relevant science by providing equipment, resources and e-infrastructures, fostering communication networks to facilitate collaboration and knowledge transfer between academia, science, industry and regulators, and by funding the commercialisation of NAMs.
Government support is also needed for putting in place a new regulatory environment that enables the transition to NAMs.
Kerry Postlewhite is the Director of Public Affairs at Cruelty Free International.
This article is sponsored by Cruelty Free International.