For the sake of brevity and for non-scientific readers, I have not described the superior methods currently available, but much information about them may be found online, including at SaferMedicines.org. The one important feature I will emphasise is that they involve the use of human cells or tissues, or computer models of human organs or systems, or non-invasive imaging of human volunteers, or combinations of all of these.
I have also talked about “both sides” of this issue, as if there are only two positions, either for or against animal testing. However, the reality is far more nuanced than that, with many people, including many scientists, opposing some animal tests, either for their lack of scientific value or for their cost to animals, while still accepting others. It is important to correct the notion that the scientific community is united in support of animal testing, when in fact, scientists are as divided on the issue as everybody else.
My view is that, wherever we are on the spectrum, there is more that unites than divides us. We all want to advance medicine and protect patients, and we all want to protect animals as far as possible (we just disagree about what is yet possible). Some of us desire change more than others but we must accept that evolution is more realistic than revolution. We must demand immediate change where possible, while continuing to press for further changes as soon as they become possible.
For example, at a workshop in London in July 2014, regulators from the UK, EU and US agreed that for testing new medicines for any potential risks to the heart, non-animal methods have now superseded the value of animal tests. Given that unexpected cardiac toxicities of medicines kill and injure millions of people globally each year, it is imperative that regulators, i.e. governments, work swiftly to issue and enforce new regulatory guidance to pharmaceutical companies, ensuring that inferior animal tests for cardiac safety are replaced with immediate effect.
These tremendous advances in cardiac safety science are due to many years of effort by scientists from across the world and are truly worthy of great celebration. The work is not over, of course, and will continue to improve our ability to protect patients still further, but the sooner these advances are put into practice, the sooner lives will be saved. Similarly, enormous progress has been made in predicting drug-induced liver injury; another major cause of injury and death, and it will not be long before a transition to superior new methods will be possible. Other toxicities will soon follow.
Thanks to decades of incredible scientific and technological progress, a future of safer medicines, with greatly reduced (and soon to be eliminated) use of animals, is already within our grasp. What can we do to hasten its adoption? We can:
- Focus on spreading awareness of animal tests’ Achilles heel, i.e. its potential to harm humans, and
- Keep up the pressure on the Government to modernise safety testing by implementing available scientific advances now, and others as soon as it is possible to do so.
You can do both by signing and sharing Safer Medicines Campaign’s petition.
The change we seek is overwhelmingly positive. Patients would benefit, health services would save billions, animals would be spared and pharmaceutical companies could develop safer medicines at a fraction of current unsustainable time and costs: a win-win situation that should be supported by everyone.
Sign and share Safer Medicines Campaign’s petition