Eight steps to ending the medical research emergency
Published on June 9, 2022
85% of deaths in high income countries like the UK are due to diseases like heart disease, dementia and stroke. Yet, despite huge investment into disease research and drug development, these diseases remain poorly understood and still lack adequate treatments. Patients and their families are giving up hope.
Meanwhile, countless animals are being forced to suffer in laboratories in an attempt to find the breakthroughs people so urgently need. It’s what’s always been done. And it isn’t working.
Last month I told MPs in Parliament that we are in a medical research emergency.
At Animal Free Research UK, we believe this emergency is in large part due to the continued reliance on animals as models for human disease. It is time to now put humans – not animals – at the heart of medical research.
Our charity is about solutions, and there are already many. Innovative new approaches such as organ-on-a-chip, artificial intelligence, using human cells and tissues, and using data from human patients, are helping to create human models for human diseases that will serve us all better. We now need bold action from policymakers to accelerate human relevant innovation for the good of everyone.
On May 23, we launched our Eight Steps To Accelerate Human Relevant Innovation. This manifesto sets out how the UK can become a world leader in finding next generation treatments to improve the lives of patients faster – and all without animal suffering.
The eight steps are:
- Commission an inquiry into the human relevance of current medical research
The lack of progress in addressing many diseases has left patients and their families lacking hope for effective treatments. We all know people who are suffering, and it is utterly heart-breaking. That’s why our first call is for a formal inquiry into the human relevance of current medical research. We need to urgently establish which scientific approaches can best deliver results which are the most relevant to humans, and it is these that should be the focus of future medical research.
- Ensure that UK law contains a clear commitment to the ultimate replacement of animal experiments with human relevant methods
The law governing the use of animals in laboratories was previously based on a European Directive. After Brexit, the main substance of the Directive was retained but this did not include the recitals, which contain a commitment to the ultimate replacement of animals in experiments. The UK must keep in step with its European neighbours, by simply reinstating in UK law a clear commitment to the ultimate replacement of animals with human relevant methods.
- Produce an action plan for encouraging the widespread adoption of human relevant research techniques
Roadmaps for transitioning to human relevant research exist, many of them containing positive recommendations, some of them supported by the good and the great of medical research. Yet there has been no consistent approach to implementation. The Government must now develop a plan and ensure an appropriate body is appointed to deliver it, with clear accountability.
- Launch a well-resourced programme of practical support and training to improve awareness and knowledge of human relevant techniques
Many scientists working in medical research use animal-based approaches – it’s what they know and have always done. It’s not surprising then that gaps in technical knowledge and training are key barriers to the wider take-up of human relevant science. One way we are tackling this is through innovative Helpathons that support medical researchers to transition to animal free research <link>. The Government should play its part by offering practical support, including establishing a network of laboratories designed to improve awareness and knowledge to strengthen the UK’s position as a world leader in the field of medical research.
- Provide funding to improve the human relevance of research – on a scale that reflects the urgency and importance of this issue
Improving the human relevance of research should become a policy priority for the Government, reflected in budget allocations. Investment in human relevant techniques offers a major opportunity for supporting the UK’s economic growth, and commissioned research supports the economic case. This investment would not require new funding – instead it should be diverted from animal research which has failed to generate concrete outcomes for patients.
- Use the Research and Development tax reliefs system to incentivise human relevant research
The Government has introduced a tax relief scheme to support climate change targets, where tax benefits are offered to firms that agree to energy efficiency measures. We believe human relevant research also offers great social value and should be similarly incentivised.
- Enable experts in human relevant research to suggest approaches that would replace animal use
The current law on animal research makes it clear that animal experiments should only be licensed when a suitable non-animal method is not available. Despite claims from the Home Office that animals are only ever used where there is no alternative, this is simply not being properly enforced. Researchers must provide evidence to the Home Office when applying for a license to use animals that no alternative exist. The Home Office releases summaries of these applications to the public, and we’ve seen some where virtually no evidence of attempt to consider possible alternatives was given. In once instance there was a one word answer. The current system isn’t working. Our solution is that anonymised applications should be shared with experts in human-relevant research, so they can provide constructive feedback, signposting and training for researchers on the approaches that would replace animal use and can be used instead.
- Appoint a Minister for Human Relevant Science
Responsibility for animal and medical research is currently shared between several different departments including the Home Office, Business, Energy, & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), and DEFRA. We are calling for one single role focused on leading the transition to human relevant science which is accountable for progress. The Minister would work closely with other departments to bring about much-needed change.
Ask your MP to take action to modernise medical research.
We believe the Government should take much more decisive action to accelerate the replacement of outdated animal experiments with cutting-edge, human relevant techniques. As well as saving animals from suffering, modernising medical research will provide the best possible chance of generating the progress that patients so urgently need.
It’s time to modernise medical research!
Join us by using our quick and easy tool to email your MP and share with them the 8 Steps to Accelerate Human Relevant Innovation, for the good of both animals and people. You can find and message your MP and ask them to take action in just a couple of minutes.
Click here to email your MP – www.animalfreeresearchuk.org/askyourMP
Raising awareness amongst MPs in this way is a vital element of building the support that is so critical to bringing about change.
You can take action for animals, by uniting with us now!
Too many animals continue to suffer in laboratories rather than enjoying the comfort and security of a happy home. Our work is funded entirely by your generous support, so please make a donation today to help us free animals from laboratories for good.