News

Doctors fear animal experiments endanger patients

Majority of GPs now question the scientific worth of animal tests, with 82% worried for their patients' safety

Patient advocacy group Europeans for Medical Progress commissioned a survey of 500 General Practitioners, conducted by TNS Healthcare (www.tns-global.com) between 5th - 17th August 2004. The company, which has many large pharmaceutical clients, selected the GPs so as to ensure a thorough demographic and geographical UK spread. The results show a staggering level of distrust in results obtained from animal experiments:

This confirms what Europeans for Medical Progress suspected - that a silent majority of doctors today are aware that animal tests are not the safety net the public and the medical profession are frequently assured they are by the government and the pharmaceutical industry.

In fact, there is evidence that testing new drugs and treatments for human disease on animals endangers human health and safety - for example, hormone replacement therapy increases women's risk of heart disease and stroke, even though studies in monkeys predicted the opposite. Aidsvax failed to protect 8,000 volunteers from HIV, even though it protected chimpanzees. Dozens of treatments for stroke have tested safe and effective in animals in recent years but patients have been injured or killed by all of them.

The clinical relevance of animal research requires urgent evaluation - a fact now accepted amongst the medical profession but not by the government, which "has not commissioned or evaluated any formal research on the efficacy of animal experiments and has no plans to do so", according to Home Office Minister Caroline Flint (April 2004). A paper published in the BMJ on 28th February 2004 asked “Where is the evidence that animal research benefits humans?” If such evidence cannot be found, the practice should cease. Patients will benefit because they will no longer be damaged by misleading data, and also because the resources currently pouring into animal research will be freed for clinical research.

Science Director of Europeans for Medical Progress, Dr. Jarrod Bailey, commented,

"An independent, transparent and public evaluation of the scientific value of animal experiments is clearly overdue. My scientific colleagues have long been frustrated by the Establishment's refusal to debate this issue openly. We believe they must now do so. Today, we are studying disease on the molecular level, where differences between species make mistakes inevitable. Today, medicine is much more evidence-based and it is time to weigh the real harm from animal experiments against the alleged benefits."

Liberal Democrat Shadow Environment Secretary Norman Baker MP said,

"This is an important survey result which rightly questions the extent to which it is safe to rely on extrapolated results from animal tests. There needs to be a debate about this matter, rather than the sterile one which the media has created, artificially juxtaposing "animal extremists" with "men in white coats". While I utterly condemn the unlawful and intimidatory actions of a few extremists, it is wrong to suggest, as the media does all too often, that the scientific and medical community is all in favour of experiments on animals, and that they all feel safe with extrapolating the results. They aren't, and they don't."

Notes

The questions above were:

1) Does it concern you that animal data can be misleading when applied to humans? 82% yes, 8% no, 10% don't know

2) Today there are many sophisticated methods of testing drug safety, including pharmacogenetic studies using DNA chips, virtual human metabolic prediction programmes and micro-dosing studies where volunteers are monitored with PET and other scanners. Would you have more confidence in a battery of these human-based tests than in data from animal tests? 51% yes, 21% no, 28% don't know

3) Would you support an independent scientific evaluation of the clinical relevance of animal experimentation? 83% yes, 8% no, 10% don't know

Europeans for Medical Progress is a mainstream science-based non-profit research and educational institute dedicated to improving human health by modernising biomedical research. We oppose animal experimentation, based on overwhelming scientific evidence that findings from animal models cannot be reliably extrapolated to humans. Far from helping us, animal experiments directly harm people, divert funds from genuinely useful research methods and are a major obstacle to medical progress today. See www.safermedicines.org 

Three books on the human costs of animal experiments: Sacred Cows and Golden Geese (Continuum, 2000);  Specious Science (Continuum, 2002) and What Will We Do If We Don't Experiment on Animals? Medical Research for the 21st Century (Trafford, 2004) - are available from info@safermedicines.org 

Contacts: Kathy Archibald, Director of EMP: Kathy@safermedicines.org / 0779 228 9066

Shelly Willetts, Communications Director: shelly@safermedicines.org