Safer Medicines - putting patient safety first

Putting patient safety first

05/06/06

New booklet proclaiming the benefits of primate research makes insupportable claims

Professor Colin Blakemore claims that experimenting on primates is vital for researching Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, strokes and other diseases, and that the ban on using great apes should be relaxed in the future if necessary. There are a number of errors and contradictions in his claims, which reveal his position to be insupportable from any perspective:

  • If there is no current need to use great apes (as Professor Blakemore states), there is no future need: why hypothsise about new infectious diseases when we have AIDS? The US Government concluded that chimpanzees are deficient for use in AIDS research and redirected $10 million of funding. Other primates are similarly deficient - 80 AIDS vaccines (50 preventive, 30 therapeutic) have now failed in human trials following success in primates.
  • Primates have contributed no information of clinical value to Alzheimer's or Parkinson's treatment: virtually everything we know about these diseases has been learned by studying patients, their tissues and their families. "It is in human tissue that we will find the answers to these diseases," according to the Director of the Cambridge Brain Bank Laboratory.
  • Research on primates, including great apes, has failed to produce treatments for any of our leading killers, including heart disease, cancer, stroke and malaria. Infectious disease research in species other than man is futile, as pathogens and immune responses are highly species specific. The polio vaccine was "long delayed by... misleading experimental models of the disease in monkeys," according to its inventor, Dr Albert Sabin.
  • To claim that the Northwick Park Hospital clinical trial fiasco makes testing on monkeys even more important defies logic. It also contradicts many experts in the field who assert that the monkey tests created a false sense of security and could never have predicted the catastrophe, while tests in human tissue could have done.
    To claim that only around 300 monkeys are used in Britain each year - and only for exceptional life-saving research - is straightforward deceit. In fact, around 3,000 monkeys are used, the majority in toxicity tests for new products; mainly pharmaceuticals.
  • To claim that a majority of the public would support experiments on great apes in the event of a medical emergency reveals the head of the MRC to be alarmingly out of touch with public opinion. Almost a million people voted in a Sky News poll last month, which asked "Are you in favour of animal testing?" 51.04% (489,748 people) voted no.

Patient safety organisation Europeans for Medical Progress has published "Non-human primates in medical research and drug development: a critical review" (Biogenic Amines, Vol. 19, No. 4-6, pp. 235-255) - available here.

Says Science Director of Europeans for Medical Progress, Dr Jarrod Bailey, "There is a great deal of data showing primate research to be irrelevant, even hazardous to human health and to have little or no application to human medicine. For the sake of medical progress, it is time for a transparent examination of this issue, free of rhetoric and unsubstantiated claims of infinite medical benefits."

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