Computers enable scientists to design and test new medicines. Though they may never be able to replicate a human patient completely, they will always reap more accurate findings than an entirely different species. Medical computers, such as this one, are now designing new drugs for AIDS, cancer and other diseases.
Would drugs be safe for us without first being tested on animals?
Actually, drugs would be safer than they are now if the animal testing phase was eliminated. Many studies have shown that animals predict correctly for humans less than 50% of the time: worse than tossing a coin!(31)
When researchers administer potentially useful substances to animals, they get plenty of feedback on the substances' effectiveness in the species tested. However, results nearly always differ dramatically between species, and there are no reliable methods of predicting a human reaction.
Substances that could save many human lives are not approved because they are harmful to animals. And substances that are therapeutic in animals get approved, later harming and sometimes killing humans.
More than 10,000 people are killed every year in the UK by side effects of prescription medicines (32) - now the fourth biggest killer in the western world (33). The US figure is over 100,000 (33). Arthritis painkiller Vioxx, withdrawn in 2004, caused up to 320,000 heart attacks and strokes - as many as 140,000 of them fatal (34). Animal testing failed to predict these tragedies, which could have been reduced or prevented altogether by modern, human-based tests using DNA chips, human tissues and micro-dose studies where volunteers are monitored with PET and other scanners.
British company Pharmagene (now Asterand) uses human tissue exclusively, with the philosophy "a flood of new data on human genetics is making drug research in animals redundant. If you have information on human genes, what's the point in going back to animals?" (35)
Many of our most popular drugs can be quite detrimantal to animals. So there is justifiable concern that animal tests are preventing us from acquiring much-needed medications, as Professor Cohn Dollery stated:
"... for the great majority of disease entities, the animal models either do not exist or are really very poor. [We risk] overlooking useful drugs because they do not give a response to the animal models commonly used."(2)
92% of new drugs fail in clinical trials, after they have passed all the safety tests in animals (36). Many drugs that reach the market are later withdrawn or relabelled because of serious side effects (1). Reliance on animal data allows companies to avoid the expense of bigger and better clinical trials.