A recent Gallup poll found that while 69% of men believe testing on animals is morally acceptable, only 49% of women hold that view. In 1999, MORI conducted a poll in association with New Scientist that was published on May 22, 1999. When respondents were asked whether they favored using animals, 24% answered yes and 64% said no. But the pollsters then broke the questions down into several categories. For example, when respondents were questioned about experiments in which mice would be subject to pain, illness or surgery, 61% disapproved using them in order to study how the sense of hearing works, but only 32% disapproved of using the mice to ensure a new drug to cure childhood leukemia is safe and effective. When monkeys were substituted for mice the disapproval for their use went from 64% to 75% in order to study how the sense of hearing works and from 32% to 44% to ensure a new drug to cure childhood leukemia is safe and effective.
Society clearly is uncomfortable with using sentient animals in research and testing especially when that research is not likely to directly result in treatments or cures. And therein lies the problem. Even the staunchest supporters of animal use in research admit the likelihood that such research will result in cures is very low.
The success rate of this heuristic approach [using, among other things, animal models for drug development] is very low. For example, the average probability that a candidate emerging from lead optimisation will not make it to be a drug is above 99.8% (1) . . . (2)
Hackam and Redelmeier:
Only about a third of highly cited animal research translated at the level of human randomized trials. This rate of translation is lower than the recently estimated 44% replication rate for highly cited human studies. Limitations of this review include a focus on highly cited animal studies published in leading journals, which by their positive and highly visible nature may have been more likely to translate than less frequently cited research. In addition, this study had limited power to discern individual predictors of translation. Nevertheless, we believe these findings have important implications. First, patients and physicians should remain cautious about extrapolating the findings of prominent animal research to the care of human disease. Second, major opportunities for improving study design and methodological quality are available for preclinical research. Finally, poor replication of even high-quality animal studies should be expected by those who conduct clinical research. (3) (Emphasis added.)
Still, regardless of the study's limitations, and even if the authors were to underestimate the frequency of successful translation into clinical use by 10-fold, their findings strongly suggest that, as most observers suspected, the transfer rate of basic research into clinical use is very low. (4) (Emphasis added.)
The fact that animals cannot predict human response is accepted by the pharmaceutical industry and essentially everyone, except basic researchers. Basic researchers that use animals know that they will lose their funding if society ever realizes how unlikely their research is to lead to treatments.
1. European_Commission, “Innovative Medicines Initiative: better tools for better medicines” (2008).
2. M. Young, Drug Discovery World, 9 (2008).
3. D. G. Hackam, D. A. Redelmeier, JAMA 296, 1731 (Oct 11, 2006).
4. W. F. Crowley, Jr., Am J Med 114, 503 (Apr 15, 2003).