Animal Rights

Dialogue with Public Key to Understanding Animal Research

| by Dr Ray Greek

Once again, we see disingenuous vivisection activists claiming they want society to understand what they do.

A Nature article by Abbot (Abbott 2010) published December 6 is titled “Basel Declaration defends animal research. Dialogue with public is key to reducing opposition over the use of lab animals.” Abbott reports that

. . . more than 50 top scientists working in Germany and Switzerland have launched an education offensive. Meeting in Basel on 29 November, they drafted and signed a declaration pledging to be more open about their research, and to engage in more public dialogue.

Abbott then cites cases in Germany and Switzerland where animal modelers were forced to stop their experiments, as being at partially the impetus for this declaration. The Switzerland case was resolved in 2009, when the Swiss Supreme Court ruled against the Kevan Martin and the Polytechnic School of the University of Zurich, in a 2006 case where the university was denied a license to use primates in neuroscience experiments. The court stated that the harm for the monkeys outweighed the human benefit. In fact, it stated that there was no direct human benefit from the research, which was admittedly basic research, not applied research. The research would have involved denying the monkeys access to water for 12 hours and implanting electrodes into their brains. The dignity of animals has been protected under Swiss law since 2004.

Abbott quotes Mark Matfield, “director of the London-based European Biomedical Research Association, which represents animal researchers across Europe” as saying: "Being open and discussing with the public why you sometimes need to use animals is a reliable and tested idea which improved the climate for research in Britain." That is not my recollection of what changed in the UK over the last few years that “improved the climate for research.”

An editorial in Nature titled “Animal instinct” reinforces the article stating: “Germany must better explain the scientific use of animals to remain a major biomedical force.” The editorial goes on to say: “Hearing little to the contrary from researchers themselves, the public tends to assume that animal experiments are an unnecessary evil, so politicians respond with more restrictions.” Well, yes I have called attention many times to the fact that society views vivisection as a necessary evil and that there are scientific reasons to question the necessary portion of that position. Hmm.

The editorial continues “They [the animal-based researchers] intend, for example, to visit local schools or to mention that their research used animals when speaking to the press about new results.” I do not see a dialogue here. Then:

The solution must be a single, non-partisan national office that can implement the principles of the Basel Declaration. It need not be large — Understanding Animal Research has only nine staff — but it needs to be professional. Busy researchers do not have the time or the lobbying skills to organize long-term concerted action. Who should pay? When it comes to the defence of research in Germany in general, the research organizations and universities band together as the formidable Alliance of German Science Organizations — the 'Allianz'. Successive governments have deferred to it, and have committed to long-term funding increases even in times of financial crisis.

In other words, they need to hire lobbyists. If you don’t have the facts on your side, you can attack character or you can hire lobbyists who can attack character in addition to spreading other lies. If I sound jealous, it is because I am. Americans For Medical Advancement does not have nine staff, in fact we have none. Moreover, we don’t even have enough money to hire the scientists who agree with us much less lobbyists who lie for a living. But then again, we do have the advantage of not needing to hire people to lie for us. We just people to say openly the things they say to us at our booth on those rare occasions when we exhibit at conferences. The fact that scientists need to hire lobbyists to communicate science, instead of engaging people like me in an “open, transparent, and solid dialogue” should tell you everything you need to know.

All of the above should also be viewed in the following context.

A news item by Dolgin in Nature Medicine reported that while Pharma is looking for and implementing nonanimal research methods, thus decreasing the number of animals used, basic researchers are using even more animals. The article cited a European Commission report published on September 30, 2010. Dolgin quotes Simon Festing as saying: “What we're seeing at the moment is a steady increase in the number of animals that are genetically modified” for basic investigations. Dolgin also quotes Thomas Hartung as saying: “This has helped the drug industry enormously to bring down their attrition rates” for drugs going into human trials. Thus, the one area where progress actually can be most easily measured, in the form of a product brought to market, replacing animal models has worked. (Dolgin 2010)

As I have stated many times, research with animals is sold to society on the basis of predicting human response vis-à-vis drug testing and disease research. It is sold as a necessary evil. “If a drug kills a monkey we should not give it to humans but if it is safe for monkeys it is safe for humans.” Even basic research has been sold as being predictive. With the new scrutiny of animal models, the basic science community is going one step further.

Michael Hengartner, dean of science at the University of Zurich, Switzerland said:

For the first time in Switzerland, the law was making a distinction between basic and applied research, and arguing that basic research with non-human primates is less valuable than applied research . . . But in biomedicine they are one and the same; applied research stands on the shoulders of basic research. (Abbott 2010)

So now, basic research is not just predictive, it is the same as applied research. The fallacies here would be hilarious were not lives at stake.

The basic researchers are being deserted by their Pharma counterparts and they are panicking. Pharma is saying that animal models are not predictive and are changing research strategies when basic research is being questioned like never before, especially basic research that uses sentient animals. All this is not surprising. Many in Pharma have spoken out against using animal models to predict human response. Sarkar Director, Clinical Imaging, Medicines Development within Oncology R&D at GlaxoSmithKline:

High attrition rates, particularly at the late stage of drug development, is a major challenge faced by the entire pharmaceutical community. The average success rate from first in man to registration for all therapeutic areas combined is 11% (Kola and Landis 2004). For oncology, this is even lower at 5%. Approximately 59% of all oncology compounds that enter in Phase III of development undergo attrition (Kola and Landis 2004). In fact, the estimated cost of bringing a potential drug to the market has increased significantly and at the current cost growth rate the projected cost for a new drug approval (assuming the R&D was initiated in 2001) is $1.9 billion in 2013 (DiMasi, Hansen, and Grabowski 2003). (Sarkar 2009)

Alan Oliff, former executive director for cancer research at Merck Research Laboratories in West Point, Pennsylvania stated in 1997: “The fundamental problem in drug discovery for cancer is that the [animal] model systems are not predictive at all.” (Gura 1997)

Littman and Williams of Pfizer writing about using humans as models for other humans in Nature Reviews Drug Discovery 2005:

Humans are the ultimate ‘model’ because of the uncertain validity and efficacy of novel targets and drug candidates that emerge from genomics, combinatorial chemistry and highthroughput screening and the use of poorly predictive preclinical [animal] models . . . In the new paradigm, studies in humans increase confidence in the relevance of novel drug targets and largely replace the animal efficacy models that are often poorly predictive of the efficacy of novel agents with unprecedented mechanisms of action (see below) . . . Until or unless a predictive preclinical model can represent each of these subtypes, humans will remain the ‘ultimate model organism’. . . For the large number of compounds with unprecedented mechanisms of action entering Phase II there are two reasons for failure due to lack of efficacy. These are inadequate pharmacology (not rigorously testing the drug target) and the lack of predictability of animal models, particularly in some therapeutic areas such as oncology and the neurosciences (Leaf, C. Why we’re losing the war on cancer — and how to win it. Fortune 9, March (2004)) . . .  There are many examples of drugs that were effective in standard animal disease models but lacked efficacy in human disease. Xenograft models of cancer are a prime example . . . (Littman and Williams 2005)

An editorial in Nature Reviews Drug Discovery 2005:

Clearly, one part of the problem [of drug research] is poorly predictive animal models, particularly for some disease areas and drug classes with a novel mechanism of action, a topic we continue to cover in our ongoing 'Model Organisms' series. But arguably the best 'models' for drug discovery are human subjects and as the need to have proof of concept or mechanism for a drug before moving on to larger, more costly clinical trials has never been greater, more big-pharma companies are now embarking on programmes in experimental or translational medicine. (Editorial 2005)

Chabner and Roberts: "Fewer than 10% of new drugs entering clinical trials in the period from 1970 to 1990 achieved FDA approval for marketing, and animal models seemed unreliable in predicting clinical success . . . " (Chabner and Roberts 2005)

Vivisection activists do not want dialogue with the public. They want and are engaging in propaganda campaigns. My offer to debate these activists still stands. I won’t be holding my breath waiting on a response.


Abbott, A. 2010. Basel Declaration defends animal research. Nature 468 (7325):742.

Chabner, B. A., and T. G. Roberts, Jr. 2005. Timeline: Chemotherapy and the war on cancer. Nat Rev Cancer 5 (1):65-72.

DiMasi, J. A., R. W. Hansen, and H. G. Grabowski. 2003. The price of innovation: new estimates of drug development costs. J Health Econ 22 (2):151-85.

Dolgin, Elie. 2010. Basic animal research on the rise while pharma looks to new options. Nat Med 16 (11):1172-1172.

Editorial. 2005. The time is now. Nat Rev Drug Discov 4 (8):613.

Gura, T. 1997. Cancer Models: Systems for identifying new drugs are often faulty. Science 278 (5340):1041-2.

Kola, I., and J. Landis. 2004. Can the pharmaceutical industry reduce attrition rates? Nat Rev Drug Discov 3 (8):711-5.

Littman, B. H., and S. A. Williams. 2005. The ultimate model organism: progress in experimental medicine. Nat Rev Drug Discov 4 (8):631-8.

Sarkar, Susanta K. 2009. Molecular imaging approaches. Drug Discovery World (Fall):33-38.