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Pharma urged to reduce animal testing

Published on 29/10/03 at 04:33pm

The pharmaceutical industry should test more drugs in humans at a pre-clinical stage to reduce numbers of primates used, a UK government advisory body has said.

The Animal Procedures Committee has recommended that scientific advances mean that pre-phase I trials of some drugs can now safely be conducted in humans, and should be encouraged.

The committee is concerned that the number of primates used will increase over the next decade as the pharma industry looks to develop new classes of drugs to combat age-related neurological diseases, such as Alzheimer's.

The committee's ultimate aim is to eliminate animal testing altogether, but acknowledged the long-term nature of such a goal.

Chairman Rev Professor Michael Banner, said: "I think we can do a lot to reduce animal testing, and we must have stringent rules and audits to make sure it is essential. But to do without it altogether is currently not possible if we are to develop effective drugs without undesirable side effects".

Calling on the industry to look at alternatives, it recommended testing on donated human tissue where possible, and said that the industry should establish tissue banks and promote in-house tissue sharing.

The committee believes that human tissue donation - which has suffered an image problem after recent hospital scandals about taking children's organs without parental consent - could be encouraged by properly explaining to relatives why it is important.

ABPI Deputy Director General Andrew Curl welcomed the report and said the industry was already looking into alternatives. "We share the objectives of the committee in wanting to reduce the use of animals in medicines research as much as possible".

"However, the truth is that we cannot yet develop medicines without using them - non-animal testing, including computer modelling, is still a long way from the stage where we can predict what will happen to a compound when it is put into a living body".

As part of its cost-benefit assessment of the use of animals in research the committee emphasised that researchers have a duty to maximise benefits, minimise harm and decide whether animal studies are needed at all.

In the 1990 - 2000 period over 37,000 primates were used in scientific procedures and, although there their use has declined since 1994, the committee concluded there was no obvious trend in the direction of numbers used.

Members of the 20-strong committee included representatives of Huntingdon Life Sciences, Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline.

Animal rights activists Stop Huntingdon Life Sciences have continued to target pharmaceutical companies who use the services of the contract research organisation, most recently mounting demonstrations outside Sankyo and Pfizer locations.

A High Court judge recently extended a legal injunction preventing the "unlawful harassment" of HLS employees by banning protesters from coming within 50 yards of them.

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