Patron Joanna Lumley OBE writes in the Daily Telegraph that Britain must embrace the high-tech alternatives to animal testing
Published on December 19, 2020
As the end of the year approaches our patron, Joanna Lumley OBE, writes in the Daily Telegraph, in print and online, calling for Britain to become a world leader in animal free medical research.
Britain must embrace the high-tech alternatives to animal testing
Three million animals are used in research in this country each year. That doesn’t have to be the case.
Each and every front-line worker in the fight to repel and defeat Covid-19 deserves to be in our thoughts this Christmas. So do the unknown number of animals – some we consider pets – who have suffered and died in the unprecedented quest for knowledge about the virus and a vaccine. Mice, cats, macaque monkeys, ferrets, hamsters, dogs and even horses have been used in the race to allow us back to our pre-lockdown freedoms.
The moral argument over whether the life of just one of the 65,000-plus citizens who have sadly succumbed to Covid-19 is worth more than these countless animals is of course as complex as it is compelling. Yet what is undisputed is that 90 per cent of new medicines which look promising in animal tests go on to fail in human trials because they are unsafe or do not work in humans.
In Britain, each year some three million animals are used in research including for human medicines and diseases. And that number has very likely risen during the war on coronavirus. As an animal lover and someone who speaks out against cruelty to them, I am not here to express all doom and gloom because there is hope.
In the sprint for Covid-19 vaccines, innovative lab technology has sped up research and development leading to successful human trials. Across the world pharmaceuticals and leading research institutions, including the University of Oxford in collaboration with AstraZeneca, have made breakthroughs by using novel medical testing models which greatly reduce – and in many cases replace – the use of animals.
Laboratory innovations such as a 3D organ on a chip, which simulates the activities, mechanics and physiological response of entire human organs and organ systems, can reduce the drug development failure rate, saving time and money.
One charity of which I am a proud patron, Animal Free Research UK, funds scientists and laboratories to push new technological and research boundaries – not just for Covid-19 but in the understanding and hopefully, eventually, towards a cure of major diseases like cancer, heart disease and dementia.
The charity along with other like-minded organisations is accelerating the transition to animal free testing and increasing human relevant life sciences – because they know it is good for human health, good for animals and good for the UK economy. Undoubtedly then, Covid-19 has accelerated the emergence of a new frontier in science, proving new technologies can replace science’s unwilling victims.
The UK Government wants to make the UK a global science superpower and our country is well placed to become the centre of human relevant science with our world-leading universities, pharmaceutical sector and research organisations. But whilst other nations are moving forward with comprehensive strategies, the UK risks being left behind because it has no clear strategy of its own.
Much of medical research is charity funded. But the Covid-19 pandemic has caused what some describe as a “catastrophic funding crisis”, added to which is Brexit uncertainty. A recent poll by the Association of Medical Research Charities showed 40 per cent of charity-funded early career scientists are considering leaving the profession. We risk losing a generation of bright young scientists which in turn will have a severe impact on several decades-worth of already funded research.
The UK Government must, then, act with urgency to protect the UK’s position as a global leader in science and avoid a science brain drain whilst losing decades of research advancements. To have real impact, it must provide supportive infrastructure, funding, education and training, and regulations that enable human relevant research.
From this annus horribilis I believe Britain now has a once-in-a-generation opportunity it must seize. We must increase the training and educational opportunities available to early careers researchers so that the next generation of scientists see animal free technologies as the gold standard.
Achieving a world where human diseases are cured faster without animal suffering is going to take transformational change in legislation and regulations governing medical research. Public pressure is also key. The cosmetics industry bowed to demand to end such cruelty. Now we need the remaining sectors to do likewise – to embrace ethical approaches to product testing simply as a part of doing business. United, we can change the outdated policies and regulations that still make animal testing before going to human trial mandatory.
From childhood, my mother taught me to respect all animals, and I mean all animals—not just cats and dogs but rats and snakes and spiders and fish and wildlife; I grew up believing they are just like us and just as deserving of consideration.
So this Christmas, we should also think about those other front line workers who have suffered during this ghastly year and urge the Government and the science community to make Britain a world leader in animal free medical research.
Joanna Lumley OBE, Animal Free Research UK Patron
To view the article on the Daily Telegraph CLICK HERE
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