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A call to modernise medical research for the benefit of public health

A call to modernise medical research for the benefit of public health

Published on August 19, 2021


1. Prime Minister

2. Chief Scientific Adviser

3. Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy

4. Home Office

5. Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

6. Department of Health and Social Care


We write as scientists and professionals dedicated to accelerating medical progress. To tackle the ‘seven great healthcare challenges’ set out in the Government’s Life Sciences Vision (Cancer, Dementia, Mental Health, Obesity, Ageing, Respiratory Disease and Vaccines), we believe that medical research urgently needs to be modernised.

We were encouraged to read in recent media reports that the Government plans to launch a review which will focus on replacing the use of animals in the development of medicines.

We believe this is an extremely important step since replacing animals with human-relevant techniques is vital to modernising medical research.

However, this review must be accompanied by bold policy action, such as developing a concrete plan to phase out animal experiments and phase in a modern, high-tech, human-specific approach.

The current reliance on animals is holding back medical progress. Significant differences in our genetic makeup and in biology mean that data from animals often cannot be reliably translated to humans. These problems play a significant role in the productivity crisis that currently is affecting the pharmaceutical industry.

Greater than 92 per cent of drugs that show promise in animal tests and that proceed into human clinical trials fail to get to clinic, mostly for reasons of poor efficacy and safety that were not predicted by animal testing. While several thousand diseases affect people, only around 500 can be treated.

Evidence showing the outright failure and lack of human relevance of animal tests has been widely published in the scientific literature for countless areas of research, including HIV/AIDS vaccines, Hepatitis C vaccines, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Crohn’s diseases, stroke, motor neurone disease, cancers, brain injury, sepsis, depression, and many more.

There is a range of cutting-edge, non-animal methods that could be used to replace animals, in many areas of research and testing, to acquire results that are much more relevant to humans. These include the use of human cells or tissues, organ-on-a-chip technology, stem cell technology, and in silico (computer based) modelling approaches.

One example of such work is a project funded by Animal Free Research UK, which used human pancreatic beta cell lines. Professor Lorna Harries and Dr Nicola Jeffery at University of Exeter Medical School studied the mechanisms underlying type 2 diabetes. First, they discovered that a proportion of the beta cells in the pancreas that produce insulin are not dying but are changing into other types of cells. They then discovered that this transformational process can be reversed, which could soon lead the way to treatments that will cure the condition. This discovery wouldn’t have been possible in mice as the cell types and mechanistic targets involved are distinct.

We call on the Government to take the following decisive action:

First, acknowledge the need to move towards the implementation of animal-free, human-relevant models of disease and make a clear commitment to doing so.

Second, develop and publish a detailed plan, with timetables and milestones, setting out how human-focused methods will be phased in, and animal experiments phased out.

Third, since this issue has a significant impact on public health and requires attention at the highest levels of Government, appoint a dedicated minister to facilitate this transition.

If the Government is willing to take bold and decisive action to modernise medical research, Britain will stand the best possible chance of further enhancing its position as a global leader in the life sciences and improving the lives of patients and their families.


Signed by:

*Please note that the letter illustrates the view and opinion of the signatories but not necessarily of their associated organisations

Dr David Ansell (PhD), Lecturer in Skin Science, University of Bradford

Kathy Archibald, Chair, Safer Medicines Trust

Dr Martin Ashby, Consultant Palliative Medicine

Dr Jarrod Bailey, Director of Science, Animal Free Research UK

Professor Michael Balls, University of Nottingham

Professor Marc Bekoff, Ph.D., Professor emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Colorado, Boulder

Dr Adrian Biddle, Queen Mary University of London

Dr Charlotte Blattner, Senior Lecturer and Researcher, University of Berne

Dr Kit Byatt, Retired Consultant Geriatrician

Theodora Capaldo, Ed.D., Trustee, the American Fund for Alternatives to Animal Research

Sarah Carr, Campaign Manager, Naturewatch Foundation

Dr. Martin J. D. Clift, Associate Professor, In Vitro Systems for Particle/Fibre Toxicology at Swansea University Medical School

Professor Michael D. Coleman, Professor of Toxicology, Aston University

Jan Creamer, President, CEO, Animal Defenders International

Professor Matthew Dalby, Director of the lifETIME Centre for Doctoral Training in Engineered Tissues

Tamara Drake, Director of Research and Regulatory Policy, Center for Responsible Science, Center for a Humane Economy

Professor Amanda Ellison, Durham University

Dr Gabriella Errico, MD, Physician / Specialist in Paediatrics and Neonatology, OSA – Oltre La Sperimentazione Animale

Dr Lorna Ewart, Executive Vice President Science, Emulate

Dr. Luis Falcon, MD, President, GNU Solidario

Paul Furlong, Emeritus Professor of Clinical Neuroimaging, Aston University

Professor Robert Garner, Emeritus Professor of Politics, School of History, Politics and International Relations, University of Leicester

Juliet Gellatley, Founder and Director, Viva!

Dr Corina Gericke, Veterinary Surgeon, Vice President, Doctors Against Animal Experiments

Dr Emma Grange, Senior Science Advisor, Cruelty Free International

Oscar Grazioli DVM, In charge of anesthesiology at Belvedere Clinic, Journalist and writer

Viv Hallam, CEO, Kirkstall Limited

L.W. Harries, Professor of Molecular Genetics

Revd Professor Martin Henig, Wolfson College Oxford

Dr Carolina Herrera, Senior Research Fellow, Imperial College London

Dr Kathrin Herrmann PhD, Veterinary Specialist in Animal Welfare Science, Ethics and Law, Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing (CAAT), Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

Claire Howard, Executive Director, Crustacean Compassion

Rebecca Jenkins, LL.B, LL.M (Animal Law), Associate Fellow, Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics

Dr Mark Jones BVSc MSc (Stir) MSc (UL) MRCVS

Dr Shireen Kassam, Consultant Haematologist and Lifestyle Medicine Physician, Plant-Based Health Professionals UK

Dr Gerry Kenna, Pharmaceutical Director, Safer Medicines Trust

Andrew Knight, Professor of Animal Welfare and Ethics, & Founding Director, Centre for Animal Welfare, University of Winchester

Dr Tomasz Kostrzewski, Director, Biology, CN Bio Innovations Limited

Sophie-Madlin Langner, Veterinary Surgeon, Scientific Officer, Doctors Against Animal Experiments

The Revd Professor Andrew Linzey, DD, Director of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics

Dr Clair Linzey, Deputy Director, Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics

Dr Lindsay Marshall, Biomedical Science Adviser, Humane Society International UK

Dr Nathaniel G N Milton, Principal Lecturer in Biomedical Sciences

Dr Les Mitchell, Fellow of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics, University of Fort Hare Hunterstoun Research Fellow

Dr Sam Murray, Neuroscience/Oncology Researcher

Dr Gaby Neumann, Veterinary surgeon, Scientific Officer & Press Officer, Doctors Against Animal Experiments

Dr. Federica Nin, Psychologist, O.S.A. – Oltre la Sperimentazione Animale (Beyond Animal Experimentation), Italy

Dr. Elisabeth Ormandy, Canadian Society for Humane Science

Carla Owen, CEO, Animal Free Research UK

Professor Mike Philpott, Professor of Cutaneous Biology, Queen Mary University London

Professor Geoff Pilkington, Emeritus Professor of Neuro-oncology, University of Portsmouth

Lorraine Platt, Co-Founder of Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation

Dr Pandora Pound, Research Consultant, Safer Medicines Trust

Julia Radzwill, Biologist, Scientific Officer, Doctors Against Animal Experiments

Dr Ruman Rahman, Associate Professor of Neuro-Oncology, University of Nottingham

Dr Muhammad Rahman, Postdoctoral research associate, Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry

Rebecca Ram, Scientific Consultant, Safer Medicines Trust

Professor Manuel Salmeron-Sanchez FRSE, Chair of Biomedical Engineering, University of Glasgow

Dr Samantha Saunders, Senior Science Advisor, Cruelty Free International

Joan Schaffner, Associate Professor of Law, The George Washington University Law School

Dr Susan Claire Scholes, Research Associate, Newcastle University

Jeff Sebo, Clinical Associate Professor of Environmental Studies, Affiliated Professor of Bioethics, Medical Ethics, and Philosophy, and Director of the Animal Studies M.A. Program, New York University

Dr Hannah Short, GP Specialist in Menopause & Premenstrual Disorders, Norwich

Professor Valerie Speirs, Chair in Molecular Oncology, University of Aberdeen

Dr Rebecca Rose Stanton, Associate Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics

Martin Stephens, Ph.D., Senior Research Associate, Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

Dr Katy Taylor, Director of Science & Regulatory Affairs, Cruelty Free International

Dr Jan Turner, Director, Safer Medicines Trust

Dr Richard Twine, Centre for Human/Animal Relations (CfHAS), Edge Hill University

The Revd. Canon Professor Keith Ward, FBA (Regius Professor of Divinity Emeritus at Oxford and Emeritus Student of Christ Church), Christ Church, Oxford

Dr Margaret Wexler, Head of Science, Breast Cancer UK

Helen Wheadon, Professor of Stem Cell Regulation, University of Glasgow

Dr Tamara Zietek, Science coordinator, Doctors Against Animal Experiments


This letter has been supported by the following organisations:

Animal Free Research UK

Animal Aid

Animal Defenders International

The Animal Interfaith Alliance

Aquatic Life Institute

Breast Cancer UK

Catholic Concern for Animals

Cruelty Free International

Crustacean Compassion

Doctors Against Animal Experiments, Germany


Humane Society International UK

Mahavir Trust

Medical Research Modernization Committee

Naturewatch Foundation

Oltre la Sperimentazione Animale (Beyond Animal Experimentation), Italy



Plant-Based Health Professionals UK

Run Free Alliance

The Shellfish Network

Safer Medicines


Wild Welfare



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