Not being an expert in animal research and testing, it’s a foreign concept to me that a vet would be working at an animal research and development facility for a pharmaceutical company. But of course who better to be ensuring the welfare of lab animals? I recently spoke with the global animal welfare officer of a large pharmaceutical company, who has such a job.
Thanks to European legislation over the past 20 years, animal experts with specialized training are required on site to provide care and manage the welfare of animals used in research. The animal welfare team work in parallel with the scientific team, looking after the animals, while the scientists focus on research.
The animal welfare officer helps facilitate research and optimize techniques for the best results, so finding the right balance for the animals. This isn’t a passive relationship with the scientists; along with strict regulation that surrounds the use of animals in research, animal welfare officers review new scientific studies before they are sent for ethical review.
Surprisingly he went on to explain that his company is actively looking for and investing in alternatives for certain research. They need further development but hoped that within 10 years or so it would be a real possibility.
However, as I’ve heard several times already, it’s the authorities, who put human safety first, are the main audience to convince in relation to alternatives. Animal research and testing is required by-law before clinical trials can take place. He admitted that even if legislation didn’t demand it, the biomedical community would still use animals, but they’d do it differently.
So from an ethical standpoint, where does a person like this stand? Doing animal research does expose a dilemma, a personal dilemma he told me; even within industry people are reluctant to use animals. They understand that to produce good vaccines, they need to go through necessary testing on animals before being testing on humans, but still no one is happy to use animals.
He went on to explain, “If we must use animals we do, but from ethical point of view, animals aren’t a perfect model of humans, they don’t mimic humans, so there are some uncertainties. It’s not 100% perfect and is has limitations.”
Discussing the perception of animal research verses the reality, the vet explained that the problem starts with the lack of visibility of animal facilities. These centres are generally closed to the public so one’s imagination simply fills in the gaps. Moreover industry has never communicated on the improvements made over the past 20 years, so naturally our perceptions are stuck in the past and is far from today’s reality.
“While there is so much emotion and extremism around the use of animals in research, it’s decreasing the opportunity to have a dialogue and transparency.
If industry could be more open, the dialogue would be much more easy.”
So in fact, as a vet he was committed to ensuring animals were used ethically in research and that his company upheld, and often exceeded, the 3R guidelines.