What if you tried to start your car and realized you had the wrong key? Would you keep trying to make it fit the ignition, or would you find the right key?
It seems a silly question, but this is the situation for researchers who use animals to study human diseases and develop drugs. Scientific knowledge gained in recent decades and the dismal performance of the animal research paradigm prove that we must use more accurate, human-based research methods if we wish to succeed against human diseases and produce safe and effective medicines.
The Food & Drug Administration tells us that 92% of drugs tested safe and effective in animals fail in human trials, even as the cost of bringing a drug to market has reached $1 billion and validated nonanimal alternatives are ignored. The blockbuster arthritis drug Vioxx from Merck killed more Americans than died in the Vietnam War, yet it was deemed safe in eight studies using six animal species. Many drugs have had severe and even lethal effects in people after demonstrating safety in animal tests. Conversely, safe and effective drugs such as aspirin, acetaminophen, and penicillin cause severe toxicities in animal tests.
A quarter-century of primate research has failed to produce an HIV/AIDS vaccine—more than 80 vaccines that worked in monkeys have failed in humans. About 150 stroke treatments, two dozen diabetes cures, two dozen paralysis treatments, and many therapeutic cancer vaccines successful in animal experiments have all failed in people. Thousands of treatments for many debilitating diseases have worked in animal experiments, yet there are no cures for these diseases after decades of trying. And what potential cures have been discarded because they failed animal testing?
These consistent and unrelenting failures should condemn the animal research paradigm to the historical dustbin. It’s time to find the right key.
One cannot assert in good faith that all use of animals in medical research and drug experimentation can be replaced by other methods. To date, there is no comprehensive substitute for animal models in research. Certainly, computer models and cell cultures as well as other adjunct research methods provide excellent avenues for reducing the number of animals used. But the pathway to fully duplicating a whole, living system does not yet exist. Therefore, the research community must conduct humane and responsible animal research to uncover, find, and develop new cures for diseases.
Virtually every medical breakthrough in the past century has involved some animal research. Each day, dedicated scientists are using animal models to find cures for the diseases and conditions that ravage all cultures. From antibiotics to blood transfusions, dialysis to organ transplantation, vaccinations to chemotherapy, bypass surgery, and joint replacement, practically every present-day protocol for the prevention, treatment, cure, and control of disease, pain, and suffering is based on knowledge attained through research with laboratory animals. Animal research is saving both human and animal lives every day.
Animal research is expensive, time-consuming, and subject to strict federal regulations. In vitro methods are faster and less expensive. Why wouldn’t we want to use other methods, if they worked? Over the past 10 years, the Interagency Coordinating Committee on the Validation of Alternative Methods (ICCVAM) has evaluated more than 185 nonanimal methodologies and has approved several research alternatives, particularly in the realm of toxicity testing. When additional nonanimal alternatives are developed, science will naturally reduce the number and use of animal models. This progression will happen only when viable alternatives are validated, and it cannot be forced. It is exciting to dream of the day when no animal research is needed and no human lives are ended by disease. Until that day comes, we need to continue using the method that works.Opinions and conclusions expressed in the BusinessWeek.com Debate Room do not necessarily reflect the views of BusinessWeek, BusinessWeek.com, or The McGraw-Hill Companies.
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