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expert reaction to annual Home Office statistics on animal research

The Home Office published its 2013 statistics on animals used in scientific procedures as well as the Animals in Science Regulation Unit (ASRU) annual report for 2013.  A press briefing was held to announce the stats.

 

Prof Jim Smith, Deputy Chief Executive of the Medical Research Council, said:

“The majority of the medical advances in the news this week have at some point relied on animal research – particularly in mice.

“Advances in genetics and the use of vast human population studies such as UK Biobank mean that man is becoming an increasingly important research animal.  But anything we learn from these studies will still need to be complemented by research using animals to allow us to understand the basic biology underlying disease.  We will continue to use mice and other animals in ever more refined experimental work because this work is still producing treatments that improve and save lives.”

 

Steve Bates, Chief Executive Officer of the BioIndustry Association, said:

“Animal research is a mandatory part of developing innovative medicines. The new data issued today indicates little change in the overall number of scientific procedures performed on animals on the UK between 2012 and 2013.

Since last year the BioIndustry Association and over 70 other organisations have signed the Concordat on openness on animal research, committing to communicate effectively about the benefits and limitations of animal research. The UK has among the highest standards for animal welfare in the world and it is important that, until there are viable alternatives, the government continues to ensure a supportive environment for the conduct of animal research in the UK.”

 

Prof Dominic Wells, Professor in Translational Medicine, Royal Veterinary College, and Chair of the Animal Science Group, said:

“The 2013 statistics on the use of research animals show a decrease in use of normal animals offset by an increase in the use of genetically altered animals, mostly mice. Genetically altered mice play a vital role in understanding gene function and the role of such genes in disease. This has enabled the development of more precisely targeted medicines. Genetically altered mice are particularly important for the creation of animal models of human disease, especially the 5000 or more rare genetic diseases, which add up to more than 5% of the human population. Such genetically altered models are vital in the hunt for effective treatments for these serious and often life threatening conditions.”

 

Prof Mike Stratton, the Director of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, said:

“Research with animals remains an essential part of discovering the causes of human disease, of developing better diagnosis and of improving treatments. It provides insight and understanding that we can gain in no other way.

“At the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, we have invested heavily in research that does not use animals. We have a large data centre, we have a new stem cell facility and we have large research projects using these facilities to tackle human disease. However, we know that there are insights into health and disease that we can realise only through research with animals.

“We continue to improve the standards of care for our animals and have received several awards in the past two years for work to reduce the numbers of animals used and to improve their welfare.”

 

Stephen Whitehead, Chief Executive of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), said:

“Animal research plays a key role in bio-medical research, helping us to better understand and improve the treatment of diseases in humans and animals. The number of animals used in the procedures carried out should be seen in the context that such research is contributing to the many of the medical advances we now take for granted in areas such as diabetes, asthma and HIV.  It is also critical to the development of the next generation of medicines and accounts for the saving of millions of lives around the world. It is also important to note that over half of all procedures relate to the breeding of genetically modified animals, even where the animals experience no further research procedures.

“The biopharmaceutical industry is fully committed to the 3Rs, and I am pleased to see that the dynamic collaboration between the ABPI and the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) is entering its tenth year. Through this collaboration we will continue to sustain and further cultivate the innovative work and valuable outputs that have been produced so far.”

 

Wendy Jarrett, Chief Executive, Understanding Animal Research:

“I’m pleased to see that over 15,000 fewer animals were used in scientific research in 2013 compared to 2012.  The number of experimental procedures using those animals has also reduced, except for the breeding of genetically modified animals.  It is illegal to use an animal for research if there is a viable non-animal alternative, and of course cosmetic testing on animals has been banned in the UK since 1998.”    

 

Dr Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust, said:

“Many of the crucial advances in medicine have been made possible by information gained from animal experiments and the Wellcome Trust supports this research where alternative methods are not available and where the potential benefits to human and animal health are compelling. This year’s figures reveal a small overall increase in the number of animal procedures in 2013, and, similarly to recent years, increases largely reflect the breeding of genetically-modified mice, whose breeding itself counts as a procedure. The overall number of animals used has slightly decreased, and the number of experimental procedures on genetically normal animals has also gone down. The numbers of animals used in research changes on a yearly basis in direct response to research needs that are rigorously assessed. For example, recent developments in science – from advances in genomics to neuroscience – mean we are able to model and understand complex diseases in ways previously not possible. As a result there may be short-term increases in the number of animals used, but such developments will ultimately allow us to reduce those numbers in the long term. Like the rest of the science community we are committed to reducing the numbers of animals used in research whenever and wherever appropriate, and will continue to support openness about this issue.”

 

Dr Vicky Robinson, Chief Executive, NC3Rs, said:

“The headline figures in the Home Office statistics tell us how many animals have been used in broad scientific areas. They do not provide any information on the experiments that were avoided because of the NC3Rs work to replace animal use or our efforts to improve the welfare of those animals that continue to be used.  We are working at the heart of the UK’s scientific community to develop alternatives and change the way science is practiced. ”

 

Declared interests

None declared

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