Life Sciences: Animal Experiments

Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy written question – answered on 28th June 2021.

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Photo of Alex Sobel Alex Sobel Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, what steps his Department is taking to ensure that increased life sciences sector activity and funding does not result in increased numbers of animal experiments.

Photo of Alex Sobel Alex Sobel Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, whether his Department has any plans to use the UK’s status as an independent nation outside the EU to set a global standard on actively phasing out animal testing.

Photo of Nadhim Zahawi Nadhim Zahawi Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

The Government believes that animals should only be used when there is no practicable alternative and it actively supports and funds the development and dissemination of techniques that replace, reduce and refine the use of animals in research (the 3Rs).  This is achieved primarily through funding for the National Centre for the 3Rs (NC3Rs), which works nationally and internationally to drive the uptake of 3Rs technologies and to ensure that advances in the 3Rs are reflected in policy, practice and regulations on animal research.  Since the NC3Rs was launched it has committed £100 million through its research, innovation, and early career awards to provide new 3Rs approaches for scientists in academia and industry to use.

The NC3Rs is widely regarded as being world leading and has an ambitious international programme to reduce the use of animals in safety testing by working with regulators and companies from the pharmaceutical, chemical, agrochemical and consumer product sectors. This has led to changes in international regulations and company practices. Recent work includes the publication of the findings of a global data sharing project, led by the NC3Rs, that indicates that there are opportunities to shift to using one animal species rather than two for some chronic toxicity studies used in pharmaceutical drug evaluation.

There has been a concern that increased life sciences activity resulting from research to find a treatment for the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in increased use of animals in research. However, as detailed in the EU Clinical Trials Register (https://www.clinicaltrialsregister.eu/) or Clinicaltrials.gov (https://clinicaltrials.gov/), the majority of products in these trials are “re-purposed” drugs and have already been developed for treatment of similar viral outbreaks, such as SARS and MERS, or have been used to treat acute respiratory distress syndrome or other inflammatory conditions. As such, none of these have required additional animal testing.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is responsible for regulating all medicines and medical devices in the UK by ensuring they work and are acceptably safe. The rapid development of vaccines for COVID-19 has been based on a concept that the MHRA has long followed. Previous animal work on very similar vaccines have been used to support the development of the new vaccines and has reduced the number of animal studies.

The MHRA work very closely with NC3Rs in bringing together stakeholders in academia, industry, government and animal welfare organisations to facilitate the exchange of information and ideas, and the translation of research findings into practice that benefits both animals and science.

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