Herbie’s Law – Why 2035?

Herbie’s Law

A Decade of Change – But Why the Wait?

Herbie’s Law: A bold step towards a future where animals are no longer used in the name of science.

With an election on the horizon, it can feel like compelling promises of change are being made on every topic. But how do we make sure that new laws are brought in to end the use of animal experiments in medical research?

Animal Free Research UK is calling for Herbie’s Law: new legislation that would mandate the replacement of animals in medical research in the UK by 2035. We plan to work closely with scientists, academics, parliamentarians and industry to make our vision a reality.

Herbie’s Law is going to be a long-term campaign with many progress milestones along the way, but while our hearts ache for an end to animal research sooner, we know that reaching these targets requires time, innovation and unwavering commitment.

As we want Herbie’s Law to become permanent legislation rather than short-term policy, there are hurdles which must be overcome to make sure the law is accepted and utilised properly.

So what’s the delay? Can’t we stop animal experiments now?

At Animal Free Research UK we want to see an immediate end to animal experiments, but the reality is that significant changes in processes, regulation and the mind-sets of scientists and regulatory bodies are needed.

There has long been a lack of clarity around the legal requirements for animal experiments in the UK, however in October 2023 the Department of Health and Social Care confirmed there is no legal requirement for animal testing in medical research. Despite this, since 2019, an average of just under 3 million animals are used each year in British laboratories, with only a small proportion needed for regulatory purposes.

If it’s not a legal requirement, why is animal testing still carried out?

The astonishing fact that 92% of drugs found safe in animal experiments fail in human clinical trials is hard to ignore. This figure represents the billions of dollars, decades of time and millions of animal lives wasted during the drug development pipeline. Yet as animal experiments are still considered the ‘gold standard’ for drug safety testing, little progress has been made to improve this drug failure rate.

Recent advances in the use of innovative animal-free New Approach Methodologies (NAMs) in drug development, for example the use of liver-on-a-chip to replace animals in toxicity testing, give hope that change is on the horizon, but we are not there yet. Positive steps have been taken by some pharmaceutical companies who have started to move away from animal experiments, replacing parts of the drug design process with animal-free alternatives. Whilst this is a move in the right direction, NAMs are still not fully accepted as replacements for animal experiments in most areas, so work still needs to be done to break away from these outdated methods.

Outside of drug development, the process of peer review, where papers submitted to scientific journals are scrutinised by experts in the field to check the quality and reproducibility of the research before publication, can also be a hurdle. This process is vital to allow research to be checked before it is accepted, however some journals are biased against NAMs, and can still request animal-based experimental data before publication, even though it is not legally required. This means that countless unnecessary animal experiments are carried out to satisfy these requests, while the scientific community misses out on high-quality, peer-reviewed papers focussed on animal-free research. Due to this, some researchers are unaware of the benefits and versatility of NAMs, and how to use them in their work. Therefore, many scientists choose to carry on with, or revert back to, their established animal-based protocols.

Removing these barriers against the uptake of NAMs is an essential step to build trust in these new technologies and eliminate bias against research which does not include animal experiments.

So why is this going to take a decade?

We want to see the end of animal experiments as quickly as possible. However, we understand that such a significant shift in direction, mind-set and regulation takes time. Appropriate validation (comparison against established methods) and optimisation (testing the best way to use a particular method) must take place to not only prove the effectiveness of NAMs as robust research tools themselves, but to also showcase the opportunities they can provide as alternatives to animal experiments.

NAMs are relatively new research technologies which are being constantly developed and refined, but they are already allowing us to make incredible breakthroughs in human-relevant science without the use of animals. Therefore, the “decade of change” we are calling for as part of Herbie’s Law will give ample opportunity for the scientific literature to catch up and fully demonstrate the benefits and successes NAMs can achieve.

The good news is that as more scientists utilise NAMs and publish ground-breaking, human-focussed experimental results in scientific journals, confidence will continue to grow in their use over animal experiments. Over 250 papers have already been published on organ-on-a-chip so far in 2024, presenting research on a wide range of human diseases and increasing trust and interest in these technologies in the scientific community.

How do we move forward?

An important step towards a significant uptake in NAMs use is creating training opportunities for scientists in the use of new research tools, such as Animal Free Research UK’s Organ-on-Chip Masterclass, which took place for the first time earlier this year. Training is an essential step in promoting the wider uptake of NAMs, creating experts who can go on to train others and help to establish animal-free lab groups which will ensure the growth of NAMs over the coming years.

We are asking scientists to change their methods, embrace opportunities to retrain and alter their mindsets to prioritise the use of innovative, human-relevant technologies. This may be a big ask, but we have science on our side, and we will not give up.

It’s going to be a journey filled with challenges and milestones. But every step we take, every paper published, and every conversation had with scientists and policymakers brings us closer to a future where animals are no longer used in medical research.

It’s going to be a journey filled with challenges and milestones. But every step we take, every paper published, and every conversation had with scientists and policymakers brings us closer to a future where animals are no longer used in medical research.

Organ-on-a-chip

Why is the scientific literature so important?

Changing methods and retraining can be expensive, time consuming and this process often does not generate any new, usable data while the new protocols are being validated. This perceived lack of progress can be difficult to justify, particularly for those under budget and funding restraints. Therefore, scientists often rely on evidence provided by others who have already shown that NAMs are reliable, effective and adequate to replace animal experiments in their work. The library of literature showing the benefits of NAMs is still being generated but is sorely needed to convince scientists to give these new technologies a chance.

How can you help?

As we approach the upcoming election, we find ourselves at a critical juncture. We now have a unique opportunity to let our potential MPs know what truly matters to us and your voice can make a real difference. That’s why we are asking our supporters to engage with their local candidates by sending them an email using our quick and easy tool.

By supporting Herbie’s Law, you are advocating for a more ethical, compassionate and innovative approach to medical research. Your involvement is crucial in making this vision a reality.

For more information on Herbie’s Law, please visit our dedicated web page.

So, when Herbie asks “Hey, UK, are we there yet?”, let’s make sure the answer is yes.