The reasons for this are many and varied. For one thing, the low-hanging fruit was picked a couple of decades ago so the diseases for which we now need new therapies are the most difficult to treat. This requires a huge investment of time, effort and resources and call for a more collaborative approach to innovation.
For another thing, the cost of conducting research has risen at a time when the rewards are on the wane. A recipe for new drugs it is not.
Yet the world is facing fresh public health challenges due to shifts in demography and lifestyle. Our ageing population means conditions such as Alzheimer’s will become a much greater burden. At the same time diabetes rates are through the roof in develop – and in developing – countries across the world.
Medical research is a global endeavour regulated locally. Researchers move, patients move – even animals move (sometimes) – and ideas, of course care little for borders. But could more be done to agree common standards for animal research and for validating non-animal testing models?
Well, yes. International cooperation is climbing steadily up the agenda as scientists and policymakers from Europe, the US, China, Brazil and elsewhere share their views on how to support medical progress while making meaningful strides forward towards the 3Rs – reduction, refinement and replacement.
Much of the debate over the use of animal testing in drug development is a cocktail of facts, emotions and ethics. Regulators have tried to strike a balance between these factors in the forthcoming EU Directive 2010/63/EU, but there is still considerable pressure to stop animal testing altogether. What would happen to drug development, and where would it take place, if animal testing were banned? It’s difficult to find the ‘right’ answers, particularly when rare, or orphan, diseases are involved.
Orphan diseases, affect not more than 5 in 10000 people, With some 29 million sufferers in the EU;
The EU research budget – a major source of support for medical science – is under serious threat and could be about to fall victim to a much wider political spat over public spending.
As part of our ‘Shall it stay or shall it go?’ campaign we’ve been asking you about the future of animal research in Europe.
Well it seems that some of the scientists who work in this area have given their verdict: they want it to stay and are more than a little worried about what they see as myths around animal studies.
So, unless you’ve been living in a cave without wi-fi you’ll probably have heard that the European Union has be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
The EU also celebrated last week when Professor Serge Haroche, the recipient of a European Research Council (ERC) grant, picked up the Nobel Prize for Physics. Europe plans to increase ERC funding from €7.5 billion to €13 billion from 2012 to help “the very best researchers to conduct pioneering research across Europe”.
As European governments begin implementing EU rules on the use of animals in research, new figures reveal that the UK – a leading player in medical science – used more lab animals last year than at any time in the past three decades.
Some 3.8 million procedures were carried out on animals including dogs, cats, mice and monkeys last year, according to press reports.
The numbers are less important than the trend. The total figure is the highest since 1981.
Where did the first half of this year go? In the world of European legislation, 2012 is a key milestone for the transposition of stricter legislation which will increase the protection and welfare of laboratory animals used for scientific purposes.
Post the adoption of Directive 2010/63/EU in September 2011, this law is now being translated and implemented at national level, across Europe.
Like many people who do what I do, I’d quite like to become redundant. That is, I’d be content if my current job were made obsolete by advances in science.
Heart disease, stroke, many cancers, asthma, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, osteoporosis, Alzheimer's disease, cataracts, and many more are what the World Health Organisation calls non-communicable diseases (NCDs) or non-contagious diseases. NCDs may be chronic diseases of long duration and slow progression, or they may result in more rapid death such as some types of sudden stroke.
It would appear that not a week goes by without a revolutionary scientific advance coming to the fore of societal discussion – advances that seem inevitably, as mankind’s understanding of the very building blocks of nature expands, to be accompanied by ethical questions.
In short, are scientists too concerned about what they can achieve to stop to consider whether perhaps they should? Xenotransplantation, which is the transplantation of living cells, tissues or organs from one species to another, with the cells, tissues and organs in question referred to as xenografts or xenotransplants, is no exception, and is an innovation that is raising many novel medical, legal and ethical issues
The National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) has awarded two grants totalling almost £900,000, to Brunel University’s Professor Robert Newbold and Swansea University’s Professor Gareth Jenkins, funds that are to be implemented in fundamental research to develop new testing methods, based on human-cell structures, for cancer-causing chemicals, a move that aims to reduce the number of animals used in tests in the years ahead.
Advances in science will present some people with new dilemmas. What if new research methods mean more primate-based studies but using fewer animals overall?
The latest trends in biopharmaceuticals will make it possible to develop fragments of antibodies – some of which can be used as new therapies – without using as many mice or rats as would have been required in the past.
The early stages of research can be done using large volumes of cell samples and with the help of computer modelling, so we essentially skip the animal-intensive phase of early research where large numbers of potential therapies would previously have been tested on rodents.
That’s how Usher Syndrome, a rare untreatable genetic disease leading to deaf blindness, first became a part of our lives. You can imagine the emotional rollercoaster, taking us from feeling a sense of shock and injustice to the struggle of dealing with an ‘unacceptable’ situation.
Professor Claus-Michael Lehr, a drug development scientist at the Helmholtz-Institute for Pharmaceutical Research Saarland (HIPS), believes new methods using cell culture instead of rats and mice will help deliver medicines more efficiently.