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Ethical framework for regulating animal research is failing, say researchers

The harm-benefit analysis is a cornerstone of animal research regulation in the EU and elsewhere. When applications for research projects involving animals are submitted for licensing the regulators weigh up the harms that animals are expected to suffer against the anticipated benefits of that research to humans.

Researchers at the University of Bristol reviewed a sample of animal research studies from 1967 to 2005. All the studies were judged to be of poor quality and most involved severe harms to animals. When the harms to animals were weighed against the benefits to humans less than 7% of the studies were judged to be permissible in terms of minimising harms to animals whilst being associated with benefits for humans.

Dr Pandora Pound, who led the research, says, "The regulatory systems in place when these studies were conducted failed to safeguard animals from severe suffering or to ensure that only beneficial, scientifically rigorous research was conducted." The research is published in PLOS ONE


Animal Research Is an Ethical Issue for Humans as Well as for Animals

New paper by Kathy Archibald published in the Journal of Animal Ethics

Excerpt: Animals are used in biomedical research to study disease, develop new medicines, and test them for safety... A revolution in science and technology has produced a new generation of more relevant and predictive tools, which could be used to create safer medicines more quickly and at less cost: a win-win situation that should be supported by everyone. The obstacle preventing this from happening is governments' continued insistence on animal testing. Yet the evidence is clear that reliance on animals as surrogate humans puts patients at risk, can delay medical progress, and can cause effective treatments to be wrongly discarded. There is a compelling case to be made that animal research is an ethical issue for humans as well as for animals.


Why cancer research should focus on humans

Dr Azra Raza, Professor of Medicine at Columbia University in New York, and Science Adviser to Safer Medicines Trust, gives a fascinating one-hour interview on the human imperative in cancer research in this highly informative podcast. In 2015, Professor Raza gave a powerful and moving 13-minute TEDx Talk on the same theme, which you can view on YouTube.


The UK must humanise drug discovery

A report was published in January by the Medicines Discovery Catapult and the BioIndustry Association, entitled: State of the Discovery Nation 2018. Based on surveys and in-depth interviews with more than 100 senior executives of drug discovery companies, the report offers a blueprint for successful pharmaceutical research, where patients and human data are placed at the heart of drug discovery. The current research process depends on animal models of disease and toxicology that are “poor approximations of humans”; consequently 40 per cent of new drugs fail when first tried in real patients. The rate at which new drugs are launched per $1bn spent on pharma R&D is one-30th of the level 40 years ago but “humanising” the early stages of research would ease the “productivity crisis” in pharmaceutical research.

“Discovery must start with biological targets derived from patient data and samples, which create candidate drugs that are highly selective for proven human disease targets in well-defined patent subgroups, not animal models,” said Chris Molloy, chief executive of the Medicines Discovery Catapult, quoted in the Financial Times.


Newsletter 2017

Read our latest newsletter here 



Human relevant assays vital for testing medicines

New paper by Dr Gerry Kenna published by Expert Opinion on Drug Metabolism & Toxicology:

"Human biology-based drug safety evaluation: scientific rationale, current status and future challenges"

Abbreviated abstract: Animal toxicity studies used to assess the safety of new candidate pharmaceuticals prior to their progression into human clinical trials are unable to assess the risk of non-pharmacologically mediated idiosyncratic adverse drug reactions (ADRs), the most frequent of which are drug-induced liver injury and cardiotoxicity...  The chemical insults can be detected using in vitro assays. These enable useful discrimination between drugs that cause high versus low levels of idiosyncratic ADR concern... Widespread acceptance and use of such assays has been hampered by the lack of correlation between idiosyncratic human ADR risk and toxicities observed in vivo in animals.


Alliance for Human Relevant Science launched at House of Commons 8th February 2017


Sir David Amess MP, plus two of our Science Advisers: Dr Kelly BéruBé and Professor Geoff Pilkington

We were very proud to launch the new Alliance, along with our founder partners: Dr Hadwen TrustKirkstallCyprotex and CN Bio Innovations.

Sir David Amess MP hosted the launch event, which was full to capacity with senior scientists and MPs whose enthusiasm and support were palpable. 

Working together, the Alliance will help to speed the transition away from animal testing, towards more efficient and predictive models based on human biology. Many breakthroughs are lost in translation from animals to humans. There is now a tremendous opportunity to make drug development faster and safer, using human relevant technologies. Some exciting technologies were highlighted at the meeting, including cutting-edge models of the liver, linked together with other organs to realistically mimic the human body.

Sir David said: “Britain is a world leader in life science research. But we had better look to our laurels if we do not want to be left behind, while others take the lead in embracing more predictive tools based on human biology. I wish the new Alliance every success with this hugely important initiative.”


Health professionals agree that new medicines should be tested using methods demonstrated to be the most predictive of safety for humans

Dods conducted an online survey of 2,512 UK health and care professionals in March 2016. 

They were asked one question about their perception of pharmaceutical testing regulations on behalf of Safer Medicines Trust.

The overwhelming majority of health professionals (79 per cent) agree that pharmaceutical companies should be legally obliged to test new medicines using methods demonstrated to be the most predictive of safety for humans.

Just three per cent of health professionals disagreed that pharmaceutical companies should be legally obliged to test new medicines using methods demonstrated to be the most predictive of safety for humans.

See full results here


Introducing our new Pharmaceutical Director

We are delighted to welcome Dr Gerry Kenna to Safer Medicines Trust, and look forward to him continuing to innovate and forge a route to improved safety of medicines, through human-relevant methods. 
 Dr Gerry Kenna is a Drug Safety Consultant and a leading figure in the field of human drug induced liver injury.  Following his initial scientific training in biochemistry, at the Universities of Leeds (BSc Hons) and London (PhD), Dr Kenna established and led academic research teams which, for 19 years, studied the mechanisms by which medicines and other chemicals may damage cells of the liver.   He then moved to industry (at Zeneca, Syngenta and AstraZeneca), where for 14 years he used his expertise to support human safety assessment of new medicines and agrochemicals.  During this time, he also led research teams which developed improved human safety testing methods.  These used human tissues and did not require use of animals.  Dr Kenna is committed to ensuring that such human-relevant approaches are used routinely, by scientists in industry and in regulatory agencies, to aid the invention and development of safe new medicines.

Newsletter 2016

Read our latest newsletter, with reflections on 10 years of progress


Welcome to our new Directors

Safer Medicines Trust is delighted to announce the appointment of Professor Barbara Pierscionek, PhD, MBA, LLM as our Scientific Director and Professor Chris Foster, MD, PhD, DSC, FRCPath as our Medical Director. They are both distinguished experts in human-focused biomedical research, who will lead the charity towards our goal of improving the safety of medicines and the future of biomedical research, by accelerating the paradigm shift from animal-based to human-relevant models.

Professor Barbara PierscionekProfessor Pierscionek is Associate Dean of Research and Enterprise at Kingston University's Faculty of Science, Engineering and Computing. She qualified with clinical and scientific degrees (PhD in protein chemistry and optics) from the University of Melbourne and obtained an MBA and legal qualifications in the UK including the theoretical degree required for practice as a solicitor in England and Wales as well as a Masters degree in Law (LLM). Her scientific expertise is in the area of eye and vision research. She is a pioneer of multidisciplinary approaches leading to new insights into the vision and the ageing eye that have potential to improve outcomes for cataract patients in the design of new intraocular implants. She also works on the ethico-legal aspects of medical and biomedical research.

Professor Chris FosterProfessor Foster is the Medical Director of HCA Healthcare Laboratories, London, and Emeritus Professor of Pathology at the University of Liverpool. He is a leading specialist in the pathology of human cancers, particularly of the prostate, bladder and breast. Professor Foster received his BSc in Biochemistry at University College London and qualified in Medicine at the Westminster Medical School. He received his PhD from the Institute of Cancer Research and his MD at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the National Institutes of Health, Washington DC. In 2002, Professor Foster was awarded a DSc for his contribution to understanding “The Cellular and Molecular Biology of the Metastatic Process”. 

Both professors have been Scientific Advisers to Safer Medicines Trust for several years and we are delighted that they are now taking on these leading roles. We welcome them both very warmly and look forward to them helping to lead the transition from animal models to human-relevant models.


Barriers to the Uptake of Human-based Test Methods, and How to Overcome Them

Our article, written with Center for Responsible Science and published in ATLA, identifies some of the reasons for the glacial uptake of new, improved methods of safety assessment, and suggests ways forward, such as:

"...validation needs to become relative, rather than absolute. If a new test, or tests, can be shown to outperform what is currently required, that alone should suffice to ensure the continual and incremental replacement of underperforming tests with better ones, even if they are not yet perfect themselves. Unless this system of gradual improvement (which operates in almost every other sphere of endeavour) is adopted, the perfect will remain forever the enemy of the good."

"Perhaps the greatest barrier to the replacement of animal tests is the legal protection that they afford to pharmaceutical companies in litigation regarding adverse drug reactions. It is therefore imperative to increase awareness of the fallacy of such protection: unpredictive tests do not protect patients, and should no longer protect companies who continue to use them, when more-predictive methods not reliant on interspecies extrapolation are available."

Everyone understands that failing to update computer software leads to serious damage to computers. Yet we allow outdated protections for human health to go unfixed for decades. Is it any wonder that adverse drug reactions are now our fourth leading cause of death?

 


Moving Beyond Animal Models

Editor in Chief of the Turkish Journal of Gastroenterology, Professor Hakan Sentürk, challenges other scientific journals to follow his lead and avoid publishing animal research, saying:

“Given the limitations of animal models, publishing animal studies would mislead the scientific community into futile research and give the general public false hope. This is unethical.”

He says: “Human-relevant approaches should be more aggressively developed and utilized instead. Fortunately, non-animal research methods like established clinical, computational and in vitro models abound, and new technologies like guts and other organs-on-chips are constantly being developed and validated.”

Read the whole article


Citizen Petition to US FDA

Safer Medicines Trust, as part of a coalition led by US charity Center for Responsible Science, has filed a Citizen Petition asking the FDA to update preclinical testing requirements, so as to ensure safer and more effective medical products are available to patients.


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