Non-animal research methods discussed in Parliament
MPs highlight need for ‘comprehensive review’ and greater collaboration
Members of Parliament have called for “a comprehensive review of animal testing”, plans for “phasing out animal testing entirely”, and greater collaboration between government, scientists and pharmaceutical companies, in a debate on ending the use of animals in the development of new drugs and medicines.
The Westminster Hall debate, held on Tuesday 4 July and led by Steve McCabe, MP for Birmingham Selly Oak, highlighted the largely untapped potential of non-animal approaches to scientific research, which can save time, money and human lives, as well as saving millions of animals from suffering in laboratories.
The full debate can be watched on ParliamentLiveTV. A transcript of the debate can be read on Hansard.
Mr McCabe, who in the past had been an advocate for using animals in medical research, called for “an end to wasteful, sometimes pointless and often very ineffective animal testing” in pointing out that over 92% of drugs that show promise in animal tests fail to translate into safe and effective medicines for humans.
He also explained the potential safety and economic benefits, which could make the UK a leader in scientific innovation, in recommending greater use of non-animal methods, “an expert advisory committee” and a target date for the transition to human-specific research.
This sentiment was echoed by Martyn Day MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Human Relevant Science, who warned: “We must open up legislative paths that allow us to pursue alternatives, or risk being left behind when other countries steal our lead”.
Mr Day, in showing that the UK conducts the most tests of any European country at over 3 million, continued: “What drew me to supporting human-relevant science was the need to safeguard and protect animals... The UK is the top user of primates and dogs in experiments in Europe; thousands of experiments are conducted every year on these sentient animals... All this animal suffering is quite unnecessary.”
The SNP’s Carol Monaghan MP called on “the research community, the pharmaceutical companies and indeed the Government to funnel resources into the development of techniques that do not involve animals”, whilst the Shadow Minister for Science, Research and Innovation, Chi Onwurah MP, asked for “a comprehensive review of animal testing, with a view to improving practice, limiting animal suffering, increasing transparency and with a long-term objective of phasing out animal testing entirely”.
On behalf of the government, Paul Scully MP, Minister for Tech and the Digital Economy, recognised that the responsibility for driving innovation in alternatives to animal testing should lie more with the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, rather than the Home Office, with whom it currently sits. This change had also been suggested earlier in the day in a letter from Professor David Main, Chair of the Animals in Science Committee.
Yet Mr Scully failed to make the commitment that it was the government’s intention to phase out animal experiments, instead saying: “Our legal framework is absolutely clear: animals are only ever used in science where there are no alternatives”.
Cruelty Free International’s Replace Animal Tests (RAT) list shows this to be untrue.
Cruelty Free International’s Head of Public Affairs, Dylan Underhill, said: “We were very pleased to see MPs secure an opportunity to discuss this important topic, and to raise the profile of the damaging consequences of our reliance on animal testing, when latest figures show that three million tests are conducted in the UK every year. However, it is disappointing to see that the government suffers from tunnel vision and continues to show a lack of ambition in what can be an exciting and impactful area.
“It is unacceptable that 92% of drugs which show promise in pre-clinical tests ultimately fail to reach the market. In an age of complex diseases, causing huge suffering, this drug development crisis cannot continue. We need to embrace non-animal approaches to science to save lives and eliminate the suffering of animals in laboratories.”