If you were born without a heart and simply didn’t care about the horrors perpetrated on animals in laboratories all over the world, testing drugs intended for human use on animals is still a very bad idea.
“In the contentious world of animal research, one question surfaces time and again: how useful are animal experiments as a way to prepare for trials of medical treatments in humans? The issue is crucial, as public opinion is behind animal research only if it helps develop better drugs.”
How did animal testing even become a thing?
Bizarrely, it’s a backlash from experiments performed by the Nazis. “Decades ago, in response to horrific medical research conducted by Nazis on prisoners, Western medicine stepped back from human clinical trials and required that animal-based tests occur before people could be exposed to new drugs or treatments.” – Professor Lisa Kramer.
It’s so shocking to think that our decision to perform brutal experiments on other animals actually springs from a reaction to Nazi brutality. And that it’s not only completely taken for granted and flourishing today, but still expanding at an alarming rate. A PETA study presented to the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2015 showed a staggering 72% increase in 15 years in the number of animals used in US labs. The UK saw a leap from the 1995 figure of 1.41 million to 4.12 million in 2013, that’s triple in 18 years. Medical experimentation and drug testing too barbaric even to think of inflicting on human beings, but ok for our surrogates, the nonhuman animals.
(And all the while the numbers rise, the two respective governments continue to pay lip service to the 3Rs doctrine – Replacement, Reduction, and Refinement. Write your MP your concerns about the use of the animals in labs, and I’ll dance naked in Trafalgar Square if you don’t get a response that declares how hard the government is working to implement the 3Rs. 😡)
Surprisingly, Lisa Kramer, University of Toronto, co-author with Dr Ray Greek of a peer-reviewed article examining the controversial question of animal testing, is not a professor of science, medicine or ethics as you might expect, but a professor of finance. Why finance?
Because animal testing makes no business sense.
Ethical arguments against animal testing are readily dismissed by scientists as being just a matter of opinion. Medical researchers claim that ethics require we put humans first, and persuade the public that using animals may be unpalatable but is a necessary evil if we wish to save human lives.
Kramer and Greek say that is a false choice. They not only demonstrate that testing on animals is in fact – looked at purely from the financial angle – an expensive waste, but that more cost-effective and reliable alternatives already exist.
The rationale for this approach is, when those at the top can’t be swayed by ethical arguments, highlighting that the animal research model makes for very bad economics will surely make them sit up in their seats and take note. Money talks.
So leaving entirely aside ethical issues of animal rights and animal welfare, the paper’s co-authors demonstrate that assuming other species’ response to drugs can accurately predict the human response is a big mistake. The pair cite “hundreds of medical studies published in prestigious journals such as Nature, Science, and The New England Journal of Medicine to show that animal models are not predictive of human responses to drugs and disease.”
Here are just a few examples of those hundreds of drugs that were deemed both effective and safe in animal tests:
- Fen-phen – a diet drug recalled after causing serious heart-valve failure in 30% of patients
- Thalidomide prescribed for nausea in pregnancy – infants born with severe abnormalities
- Vioxx, an anti-inflammatory – taken by 80 million people until it was discovered it caused heart attacks and strokes
- Rezulin – caused liver failure. Many people died
- Propulsid – life-threatening heart rhythm abnormalities. Again, many died
- TGN1412 to treat cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple sclerosis – caused multiple organ failure at doses 500 times lower than had been used in animal studies
In 2012 Van Meer and his colleagues decided to take a look at this from the other end of the telescope. They “retrospectively studied whether serious adverse drug reactions in humans could have been identified using animal models prior to the release of various drugs. They evaluated drugs currently on the market and discovered that only 19 percent of 93 serious adverse drug reactions were seen in animals.”
Who, apart from the animals, are the losers?
The answer is all of us. Everyone who ever needs or administers medical treatments. And perhaps, those genuinely dedicated to finding cures.
Patients obviously suffer when drugs pronounced safe from animal trials cause harm and sometimes kill.
They also suffer when drugs that seemed to work in animals, don’t work for them. “Researchers have cured cancer in mice countless times, and yet there remains no cure for humans. Likewise, about a hundred vaccines are effective against HIV-like viruses in animals but none work in humans.”
Then there are useful drugs that are erroneously consigned to the bin because they don’t work on animals. For example, “It took decades and countless deaths before the therapeutic value of penicillin and the polio vaccine were recognized. An unknowable number of other drugs may never be discovered if we continue down this … path” of putting our reliance on animal trials.
“In a comparison between animal-based methods and a purely random method, such as flipping a coin, you’d be better off relying on the coin flip.”
And unbelievably, large numbers of animals bred for the labs are never even used, just wasted. A tragic waste of individual lives, but as at the moment we’re only looking at the finances not the animals, a profligate waste of money too.
Let’s not forget the taxpayer’s place among the losers from mandatory animal testing, since it’s the taxpayer that is ultimately footing the bill for the drugs prescribed by the health service. A bill which came in at the unthinkable sum of £20 billion for the NHS last year.
And if we must feel sorry for them, even the shareholders of the pharmaceutical companies themselves are being short-changed by this flawed research model.
Yet vast sums continue to be spent on animal research. Why?
First because currently our law demands that all drugs be tested on animals before they can be licensed for human use. The law needs to change to make drug testing safer, cheaper and more effective (still leaving aside the issue of animal rights and animal suffering.)
Second, there are those who have a strong financial interest in maintaining the status quo and blocking change: research establishments, scientists, regulators, laboratory inspectors and those responsible for granting licences. As for the companies that breed, sell, and ship nonhuman animal subjects to the labs, and suppliers of equipment for the research, animal testing is a hugely profitable business.
Don’t be fooled by those with vested interests who “point only to success stories where life-saving drugs have emerged from animal-based research. Of course, bad models can accidentally produce right answers. Famously, stopped clocks are right twice a day, but we don’t use them to keep time.”
Not only is animal testing expensive, unreliable, unsafe and wasteful, it is also unnecessary.
New technologies that provide alternatives are emerging all the time. Micro-dosing, organs-on-a-chip, computer modelling, human-patient simulators, computerised patient-drug databases and virtual drug trials, stem cell and genetic testing, MRIs and CT scans – all already available.
At best testing on animals is a scandalous waste of money. At worst it is deadly – to them certainly, but also to us.
If you do have a heart, and want a glimpse of why regulations intended to safeguard the welfare of lab animals are not the answer, watch this short video.
Check in case your favourite health charity is funding cruel experiments on animals here
ICYMT Please sign and share petitions widely:
Stop lost, stray or abandoned dogs from being sold to labs – anyone can sign
Mandatory Alternatives Petition – U.S. citizens only
Click here to ask the Royal Veterinary College to stop testing on animals
Horrific laboratory deaths described in annual report. Order a mouse-shaped postcard to send to your MP
Each year inside British laboratories, more than 4 million animals are experimented on. Every 8 seconds, one animal dies. Find out how to help stop this here
Updates 11th December 2018
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17th Jan 2020
5th February 2020