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Petition Plan to phase out animal experiments

The Government must recognise the urgent need to use animal-free science and publish a clear and ambitious action plan with timetables and milestones to drive the phase-out of animal experiments. As well as preventing animal suffering, this will benefit public health and business.

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Every year, around 3 million animals are used in experiments in Great Britain and Northern Ireland. As well as causing large-scale animal suffering, this outdated practice fails to deliver medical progress. 90 per cent of drugs that pass animal tests go on to fail in human clinical trials. There are many modern alternatives that deliver results that are directly applicable to people, such as the use of artificial intelligence and organ-on-a-chip technology.

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Government responded

This response was given on 4 August 2021

The Government funds and supports the development of techniques that replace, reduce and refine the use of animals in research (3Rs). This is primarily delivered by the National Centre for the 3Rs.

Government believes scientific research using animals plays a vital part in understanding how biological systems work in health and disease. The use of animals in science supports the development of new medicines and cutting-edge medical technologies, for humans and animals, and the safety and sustainability of our environment. However, animals must only be used where there is no alternative. This is achieved through robust regulation and support/ funding for non-animal alternatives.

In the UK no animal testing may be conducted except for a permissible purpose enshrined in law. These purposes include to: assess the safety of medicines or chemicals; protect the environment; allow the development of medicines; and conduct basic scientific research to understand how biological systems and processes work. Under UK law no animal testing may be conducted if there is a non- animal alternative available and such testing is strictly limited to that necessary to achieve the scientific benefits.

Animal testing is required by global medicines regulators including the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to protect human health and safety. Without the testing of potential medicines on animals the development, registration and marketing of new, safe, and effective medicines would not be possible. The animal species for animal testing of potential medicines are specifically chosen to give as much human relevant information as possible and to avoid species specific reactions which would not predict human effects. Many products which would be unsafe or ineffective in humans are detected through animal testing thus avoiding harm to humans. Potential medicines fail in development for many reasons. The fact that medicines are stopped in development for reasons other than unfavourable outcomes from animal testing does not mean that testing is not essential.

Animal testing of chemicals is required under UK law and is dependent on the chemical and quantity manufactured, to protect the safety of workers exposed to material in high amounts and the environment when chemicals may find their way into waterways, soil or atmosphere. Animal testing is also required for academic researchers to understand how biological systems work. Without this basic research we would limit our ability to make scientific discoveries which eventually lead to new targets for drug discovery and development, and the pipeline of new medicines. Government recognises the increasing value of in-vitro and in-silico models, including organs-on-chips and 3D tissues, which can aid development of new healthcare innovations and reduce, refine or replace the use of animals in research.  

Government actively supports and funds the development and dissemination of techniques that replace, reduce and refine the use of animals in research.  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 ensure that advances in the 3Rs are reflected in animal research policy, practice and regulations.  Since their launch NC3Rs has committed £100 million through its research, innovation, and early career awards to provide new 3Rs approaches for scientists in academia and industry. This includes almost £27 million in contracts through its CRACK IT Challenges scheme to UK and EU-based institutions, mainly focusing on new approaches for the safety assessment of pharmaceuticals and chemicals that reduce the use of animals.

From the 22 completed CRACK IT Challenges, 12 new products and services for industrial and academic end-users that are better, cheaper or quicker than existing approaches have been delivered. These include: miniature wireless devices for recording neural activity in mice; novel human-relevant microphysiological systems and organ on-a-chip platforms for kidney, cardiac and neuronal toxicity assessment; and AI/ in silico modelling platforms for infection, welfare monitoring and toxicology studies. The MHRA work closely with the NC3Rs, 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 animals and science.

In 2015, the UK non-animal technologies roadmap was published by Innovate UK and the NC3Rs, in partnership with a number of Research Councils, and the UK’s Defence, Science and Technology Laboratory. This set out a strategy to accelerate the translation of technologies emerging from research into tests for assessing the safety and efficacy of chemicals, medicines and drugs without the use of animals. There is ongoing work led by the NC3Rs to review the impact of £7 million invested as part of the roadmap for commercial feasibility and collaborative R&D projects. The findings of this review will be used to inform future activities.

Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

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