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;
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”.
Read the Europe 2020 strategy and the Innovation Union policy and the message from EU policymakers is clear. Europe says it needs to be in the Premier League of scientific R&D, not just because research delivers solutions that help improve our lives, but because we want to develop and produce things that have value; things people in the US, Japan, China and elsewhere will buy from us.
Rhetoric vs reality
But what is the reality behind the rhetoric? And is Europe sending mixed signals about its support for research?
Unnecessary animal tests are replaced by alternative testing methods at Danish pharmaceutical company
It has taken ten years for a dedicated company task force to get rid of all redundant product control tests in living animals or to replace them with other methods of testing. Working in close collaboration with regulatory authorities around the world, the task force has replaced all obsolete tests at Novo Nordisk using live animals. The alternative testing method, the use of animal cells rather than living animals, had first to prove its efficacy before being approved by regulators.
It won’t be long now until the annual European Partnership for Alternative Approaches to Animal Testing (EPAA) conference which takes place on 9 November here in Brussels.
The EPAA is an independent platform which brings together the European Commission and industry groups to collaborate on implementing the 3 Rs Declaration. It has been running since 2005 and has done a lot to bring together people who don’t talk as much as they should – like companies and regulators, or scientists and EU officials.
Neil Parish MP talks through the tough policy choices during the revision of the lab animal legislation
We recently interviewed Neil Parish MP, the first reading rapporteur for the revision of law protecting lab animals. In our first video, Neil expressed the challenges he faced during this review to find the right balance between helping science advance, while protecting animals as much as possible.
What’s in a name? Well quite a lot it seems. Whether you came to this site looking for information about animal testing, animal research, vivisection or experimentation, the language you use defines your political and emotional views, your level of knowledge on the subject and potentially reveals your nationality.