British animal experimenters sign new code to ensure more openness

Scientists, drug firms and charities sign UK pledge to ensure more openness on testing

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 May, 2014, 9:40pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 May, 2014, 9:40pm

More than 70 medical bodies in Britain, including drug makers Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca, have signed a pledge to be more open about their use of animals in scientific experiments.

The Concordat on Openness on Animal Research was published yesterday after protracted negotiations between scientists, universities, medical charities, drug firms, journalists and the public. It covers only activities in Britain but was signed by 72 organisations based in Britain and overseas, such as US-based Pfizer which is seeking to buy AstraZeneca.

"This widespread support for openness demonstrates the change in attitude we have seen from the life science sector over the last few years," said Geoff Watts, who chaired the steering group that drew up the agreement.

Britons broadly support the use of animals in experiments but under strict conditions and only when there is no alternative.

An Ipsos MORI poll in 2012 found 80 per cent of those asked were "conditional acceptors" of the use of animals in scientific research - in other words, they agreed with it for medical purposes and/or in good welfare conditions.

But around a fifth of Britons are unhappy about the use of animals in research, and many say they would like to know more about what goes on in laboratories where animal experiments are conducted.

About 4.1 million experiments were carried out on animals in Britain in 2012, 74 per cent of them on mice.

The concordat obliges signatories to "be clear about when, how and why" animals are used, and enhance communications with the media and the public about such work.

It also commits them to being "proactive in providing opportunities for the public to find out about research using animals" and report each year on progress and experiences.

Scientists use animals in medical, veterinary and basic research, to develop medicines and other treatments for humans and animals, and to understand biological processes.

New medical treatments are required by law in Britain to be tested on animals before being used for human trials, and regulatory work, such as testing batches of drugs, also requires animal screening.

Jeremy Farrar, director of international medical charity the Wellcome Trust, said the agreement would boost "informed dialogue between researchers and the wider public that is healthy for both science and society".

"Almost all of the most important advances in medicine have relied on information gained from animal experiments, and this field of research remains critical to driving the improvements in human and animal health which our funding seeks to support," Farrar said.

"But like all research, animal experiments should proceed with the consent of society, and that requires openness about how and why they take place."