Animals are used in science in three main areas. Education and training (5%), regulatory testing requirements for the marketing of pharmaceutical and industrial chemicals (25%) and basic and applied scientific research (70%).
The use of alternatives to replace animals in education and training is largely a success story, with the UK as one of the leaders in this field. Animal dissections at undergraduate level have been replaced with synthetic models, mannequins, videos, interactive computer simulations and virtual reality.
The use of animals in post-graduate specialist training (e.g. Advanced Trauma Life Support) has also largely been replaced by many of the same technologies as mentioned above.
The replacement of animals in the testing of pharmaceutical drugs and industrial chemicals is now possible, thanks to 21st century technology that is based on human 3D cell culture, human stem cells, human organs on chips, and the like.
However, industry has been surprisingly slow to adopt these new technologies. It is important to note that the requirement for animal testing in the regulatory arena is based on the conclusions of the Doctors Trial at the end of the Second World War at Nuremberg (1946). UK regulations require that any new pharmaceutical drug be tested on at least two animal species, a rodent (usually the rat) and a nonrodent species (dogs or monkeys). Science has moved forward by 75 years since then but the laws have not yet caught up with the science.
According to the US Food and Drug Administration, for every 10 new drugs that pass animal tests, nine will fail during human clinical trials, either due to toxicity not seen in the animal tests or lack of efficacy in humans. That represents a 90% failure rate at a time when current technologies, such as human organs on chips have demonstrated 90% accuracy in predicting human response to drugs and chemicals.
It should be obvious that if shareholders in the pharmaceutical and chemical industries were made aware of this shameful situation, they may well respond in the same way as shareholders in the petrol industry, who have called for an accelerated transition away from the old (fossil fuels) towards the new (climate friendly energy sources). The main reason that shareholders in the petrol industry have responded so vocally is that the damage to the planet as a result of climate change is now all around us, whereas the toxicity tests to which animals are subjected takes place in secluded laboratories, well out of the public view.
Animal testing has never been the subject of an independent scientific inquiry.
We should all welcome such an inquiry, which is well overdue. EDM 278 tabled in July 2022, calls for a public scientific hearing on animal experiments.
Finally, we come to the use of animals in scientific research. Unlike regulatory toxicity testing, there is no legal requirement to use an animal in basic or applied scientific research. The researcher is free to choose between the use of a live animal or human relevant research methods. In the current scientific culture, the animal model is still considered to be the relevant paradigm for the study of human disease and drug development. However, as demonstrated in the pharmaceutical industry, the animal model fails 9 out of 10 times.
It is clear that a paradigm shift needs to take place in universities and in scientific research institutions, if we wish to move away from the 19th century dogma of the animal model, towards 21st century scientific thinking. The animal model in research is no longer compatible with current knowledge in evolutionary biology and complex systems. It is often easier for a researcher to obtain authorisation to use 100 mice than to obtain human surgical waste destined for incineration.
Part of the problem lies with the composition of animal ethics committees, which have few or no representatives from civil society, to challenge the way millions of pounds of taxpayer money is spent, for what concrete results for human medicine?
The other part of the problem lies with the law, which does not require animal researchers to demonstrate the relevance and the reliability of their animal models with respect to humans. Indeed, it is doubtful that they could. Hence the urgent need for a public scientific hearing on animal experiments.
By Dr Andre Menache, European Veterinary Specialist in Animal Welfare Science, Ethics and Law