Skip to main content

Animal Testing


I’ve had reports that some of the animal rights activists are getting loud and lively down in Connecticut, to the point of harassing employees of some of the drug companies there. I remember some of this going on in the early 1990s in New Jersey, but this is the first big outbreak of this stuff I can remember since then. This latest outbreak seems to be part of their long-running (and to my mind misguided) campaign against Huntingtdon Life Sciences.
I won’t go into the specifics of what I’ve been hearing, because I don’t want to encourage the people who do it. What I’ll say is that all this shouting-on-the-street and ominous-flyers-under-the-windshield-wiper stuff doesn’t do the animal folks any credit, not that they care. A rational debate on the issues involved would be just fine by me, and I don’t think it would take very long. But since I doubt that my readership overlaps much with the kind of people who try to publicly intimidate scientists, and I further doubt that those people are open to rational debate. So I don’t see that happening here.
This, then, is just a heads-up for the researchers that do come here, most of whom work, directly or indirectly, with animal assays and the data they produce. Keep your eyes open. It wouldn’t be prudent to bet on all of these activists being harmless. Make sure you know who you’re letting into your building, and so on. The actions of True Believers can be difficult to anticipate, no matter what their cause.
And for my readers outside the industry – yes, we do indeed use animal testing. Mice take the brunt of it, followed by rats. It’s very difficult, expensive, and time-consuming, and we’d drop it in a minute if we could, just for those reasons. But no one knows enough about living organisms yet to do that. Not even close. For the foreseeable future, there’s no other way to do medical research, academic or industrial, basic or applied. Anyone who tells you differently is either misinformed or lying, and anyone who knows better but still tries to shut down the research is ethically deranged.

31 comments on “Unacceptable”

  1. Grubbs the cat says:

    If it’s the anti-Huntington folks, beware. We had them and they do nasty stuff. Besides the usual shouting, they followed a few of us home, then went to see the neighbours and asked them if they knew they lived next to an animal torturer…
    I am always wondering if those people use perscribed drugs. If not, would they really rather accept an untreated (even terminal?) disease? And what about their children???

  2. Edward says:

    Aren’t these the same people advocating for embryonic stem cell research… hmmmm… Can’t harm those precious rats, can we folks.

  3. milkshake says:

    It is logical. The activists actually dont like animals that much – they just hate people. Especially in white coats.
    Here is an idea: One anonymous call threatening a bomb attack on your company (unless you stop torturing the poor rats)should keep them out of your parking lot for a long time…(Not that it would be the first time: they threatened randomly poisoning batches of pomegranate juice, to make the consumers very ill and scared of the product). Seriously, the only good way of responding to bullying is to up the ante.

  4. Anon says:

    Pretty simple really, let them step up to participate in early human trials with experiment compounds that have been put into animals to prove sufficient level of safety. Translating from animal to human is fraught with errors – if the inefficiency of translational medicine is their assumption then we may be doing some unnecessary animal studies. The best experiments are those done (safely) in humans. In the absence of valid in-silico models, and towards minimizing undo animal studies and harm – we need human subjects who wish to help participate in pioneering the evaluation of emerging medicines.

  5. Skeptic says:

    The senseless snickering from the pharmaceutical industry continues…meanwhile the beat goes on with useless tools like graphical models in trying to understand biological systems. The pharma industry is much like the mathematicians – simply throw your hands up in the air shouting “its too complex” and stick with the status quo.

  6. Anonymous says:

    “Aren’t these the same people advocating for embryonic stem cell research…”
    Um, no. At least, I don’t see any good reason to make that assumption.

  7. Anon says:

    Skeptic –
    Snicker perhaps, but at least many of us know we are talking about and its unlikely (actually quite evident) you do. Many of us are leading the way of doing things differently in this industry ESPECIALLY in the research and early pre-clinical space. You saw the comment about animal models not translating well into humans. The conclusion you should make there is we are trying to become less dependent on effective animal models. While the driver is not “saving animals” the impact is to make these, and human studies, more effective.
    Perhaps those of you who oppose the use of animals should wear bracelets that keep you from using “drugs and therapies that used animals in their research and development stages”

  8. Demosthenes by day says:

    It is the way I shut any of these activsts up once the debate devolves to the level of “animal torturer”. I simply ask them to show me their med-alert bracelet or tattoo forgoing all medical care. Since almost every single thing in an ambulance or ER has been tested on animals they should happily “walk what they talk”. So far I’ve asked 6 times and have yet to see one. Imagine that? I did have one gentleman gleefully admit he was a hypocrite and would unhesitatingly take his son in if he thought something was medically wrong with him. That one I actually respected.

  9. Hap says:

    1) I think it’s the FDA you have to convince. Computational models would save a lot of money for drug companies that they could spend on actual research (or more likely, on dividends, stock options) – so they have no incentive not to do so. The FDA, on the other hand, has already been under pressure for safety, so they are unlikely to decrease data requirements for new drugs. Lots of analytical assays are kept even in the presence of better ones, and only recently has that changed at all. Scrapping animal tests for computations risks exposing lots of gov’t people to massive criticism if it doesn’t work as required, something most politicians and high gov’t officials are severely allergic to.
    2) If computational models were good enough to replace animal testing (and the systems simple enough to allow such as replacement), wouldn’t you figure there would not be such a problem actually finding new chemical entities for potential use as drugs? I would have thought such a comprehensive ability would lead to a greater number of new chemical entities being at least suggested for approval, and likely fewer being rejected for safety reasons (because the models would be able to predict those effects before testing).Neither of these effects seems to be occurring – there may be a logical flaw in my conclusion, but it seems more likely that the systems are not simple rather than that they are simple but drug companies don’t want to change enough to use other forms of testing over animal testing (and to save the nonnegligible amounts of money that animal tests cost).

  10. Hap says:

    MS- I suspect escalation would not be effective. Public approprobation hurts you (your employers, etc) far more than its hurts extreme animal rights people (who are already likely outside even the scope of those who might believe in animal rights as they conceive them). If they have decided that you are no longer worthy of the rights they accord to others and to animals, then your life is forfeit. Sacrificing you costs them nothing they care about, and gives them what they want. Upping the ante will probably help the cause of extreme believers in the long run and rejects the behaviors (compassion, respect for law and logic, humanity) that differentiate you from them and the systems that can potentially protect you and what you support.I haven’t had this experience though, and I have lived in a different system, so MMMV.

  11. MikeEast says:

    One of the posters hit the nail on the head for me. The goal is to find safe and effective treatments for HUMAN diseases. I don’t think many people will argue that testing in animals is sub-optimal. It is however, what we have and has provided invaluable information. There has been a tremendous amount of progress in the amount of information that can be gleaned from experiments in animals and I would submit (without data unfortunately) that this information is generated using overall fewer animals.
    An analogy here is that we are building a car with better gas mileage. Why don’t we build a car that doesn’t use gas? Or better yet, build a teleportation device.
    I think it is our responsibility as scientists to think out ‘of the box’ for how to best develop drugs to treat human diseases. This will not necessarily lead us away from testing in animals, but it just might.

  12. I wonder what percentage of animal rights activists use or have used oral or injected contaceptives. In the definition of usage, I would not accept the ‘my wife/girlfiend is the one taking the pills’ argument.

  13. Anonymous CT Phama Researcher says:

    Instead of going after US, why don’t they go picket in front of Stop & Shop? Their suppliers kill far more animals than we do, and from what I’ve heard about factory farming probably treat them worse as well.
    I don’t like using rats, and whenever possible we use cell culture for our studies — quite aside from the issue of animal suffering, cell culture is MUCH quicker, MUCH cheaper, and generates MUCH cleaner data. If we COULD do it all with cell culture, believe me you we would. But we do try really hard to get as much data per animal as possible.

  14. Skeptic says:

    >>The conclusion you should make there is we are
    >>trying to become less dependent on effective
    >>animal models
    The parrot factories (universities) produce lots of scientists with unfortunate biases who are eager to try. Thats not the problem. But pharma thinks they need even more parrots to drive labor costs lower.

  15. Polymer Bound says:

    Skeptic: Please point to the in vitro/in silico model(s) that will predict whether a compound will cause seizures, lethality, kidney precipitation, abnormal spleen pathology, or any of the other crazy reasons compounds don’t make it into human trials. How will we get PK data? How do we find out if antagonizing, agonizing, or potentiating a particular target is even safe to do, much less useful?
    If pharma heeds your advice and carries a compound into humans without extensive animal testing (assuming they could get past the FDA), who gets blamed when a clinical candidate causes patients’ lungs to bleed after a week of dosing? Many, many, many compounds fail for unusual reasons, and despite best efforts by safety groups, the cause of the toxicity is usually not found.

  16. Anonymous says:

    @4, 9, etc. re: letting these people be their own guinea pigs…
    That’s not an option.
    It became bad publicity as a result of certain research projects conducted during World War II. Judges after the war took a very dim view of these projects, writing: “3.The experiment should be so designed and based on the results of animal experimentation and a knowledge of the natural history of the disease or other problem under study that the anticipated results will justify the performance of the experiment.” (For more information, search the web for Nuremberg Code.)
    This was subsequently incorporated into the Helsinki Declaration of 1964: “1. Biomedical research involving human subjects must conform to generally accepted scientific principles and should be based on adequately performed laboratory and animal experimentation and on a thorough knowledge of the scientific literature.”
    The Declaration of Helskinki was a statement of the World Medical Association, and doesn’t have the force of law (although it could be tough to find an MD to run your trials going agaisnt the declaration). However, in the US, elements of the Nuremberg Code and the Declaration of Helsinki have found their way into federal law, such as 40CFR26.101.
    So while it is tempting to think of animal rights activists as research subjects, it’s not likely to go beyond that stage.

  17. Justin Liu says:

    activism is just another hobby for some people, they don’t care (though they would say otherwise) or bother actually understanding the issues

  18. Skeptic says:

    PB: I believe the FDA is a net negative to both industry and consumers.
    I take issue with his statement:
    “But no one knows enough about living organisms”
    My response is that the pharma industry hasn’t had to because they’ve been able to lean on the crutch of animal testing for so long. I imagine ancient tribes produced beneficial chemical therapies in much the same fashion.
    The question remains: Has industry been negligent in their duty to better understand biological systems? Look at the “revolutionary” SYSTEMS BIOLOGY supplements that happen to be included in your favorite science magazine. Graph Theory + nonlinear dynamics is revolutionary?

  19. Scared researcher says:

    Many of the comments in this thread have been about the ethical issues surrounding animal research. However, no matter what one may think about animal research, I consider some of the tactics used by activists utterly unacceptable. In my student days — when I had more time for such things — I took part in a fair number of demonstrations about one cause or another. Even today, there certainly are plenty of organizations that do things of which I do not approve (I won’t specify, as that’s beside the point I am trying to make here).
    But I would NEVER have considered doing ANYTHING that might frighten individual employees of a company. No matter what I might think of what a company does, I would never in a million years have done some of the things I have heard of certain “animal rights” groups doing.
    ANY organization that wants to have a legitimate discussion with me about what my employers do MUST make it crystal clear that they do not approve of such tactics if they want to engage my attention to the content of their views.

  20. kay says:

    Another reason for ‘dropping it in a minute’ is that the results are as often non-predictive as they are predictive. Using Vegas-style methods is not a very pleasant way to produce the wonder of science.

  21. Hap says:

    If drug companies had the kind of predictive capacity (or cell-based systems that could replicate it) that could replace animal testing (and could sell the FDA on it), one would expect a better hit rate and a lower failure rate for the development of new drugs than is the case. If they don’t have enough knowledge to obviate the need for animal testing, how will intimidating their scientists (or less violent alternatives, such as a gov’t-mandated ban) achieve that end? If companies can’t develop drugs, they have no money to find the information needed to replace animal tests, so they won’t be around very long, and no one will be around to replace them (because no one else has that knowledge, either). Or do drugs grow on trees somewhere we’ve not seen?

  22. JK says:

    We must not be so defensive and soft on the animal “rights” crowd.
    The simple fact is that human beings are worth more than animals. This should be a no brainer for anyone who is not a vegetarian on ethical grounds.
    We need to defend animal research not just on grounds of medical necessity – although I understand that on this blog that is particularly relevant – but also for pure curiosity driven research. So far as I am concerned that is a far nobler cause than a desire for tasty meat.
    I am happy, also, to defend the testing of cosmetics on animals where this is useful. The fact that no non-human animal – not one – could develop a cultural system that gave cosmetic decoration of the body a meaning should tell us something.
    Ask yourself why animal “rights” protesters target scientists instead of pest exterminators. The answer is that they want to key in to a cultural suspicion of science. They know that the public would ridicule them if they tried to denounce rat poison as “inhumane”. So instead they seek to find something sinister in the idea of experimentation, the very idea of consciously trying to inquire into the world is stigmatised as “domination” and “destruction”. They target humanism itself.
    How do scientists respond? All too often they act as if they are ashamed of what they do. Talk of the “three Rs” – reduce, replace, refine – effectively concedes the whole case to the animal “rights” side. The starting point is that there is something inherently problematic with animal experiments. When I talk to advocates of the three R’s they tell me that it is nothing more than good practice and best use of resources.
    But if that is so then why not call it that? To advocate the three R’s on these grounds is cowardice and double talk. The public will inevitably interpret the three Rs to mean that animal experiments should be phased out, and that scientists are working to this end. But any scientist who honestly looks at the subject knows that this would be to phase out biology.
    It amazes me how few scientists are able to simply say that animal experiments are not simply a regretable necessity. They are a positive good.
    We must not be afraid of animal “rights” activists. Sure, there are a few extremists. But even they are not so dangerous. In my experience they are mostly rather pathetic individuals.
    The worst possible response is to act as if science is something to be ashamed of, to keep out the cameras, to refuse publicity, not to talk, to demand anti-terrorist laws which shut up the protesters. Sadly this seems to be a common response in both academia and industry.
    The best response is to confidently present the case to the public that science is a most magnificent expression of the human spirit, both for its practical utility and for the inherent beauty of knowledge.

  23. Polymer Bound says:

    skeptic: I have seen several project meetings where in vitro, and even cell-based in vitro assays, completely fail to predict in vivo results.
    I can’t speak for all companies, but where I work, there’s a constant push to find in vitro alternatives to animal testing because they are 1) cheaper and 2) -way- higher throughput (I think we even have awards for this). The degree to which we continue to do animal assays is reflective of how predictive the in vitro studies are. Hell… our in silico docking studies are off frequently enough to know that we have to actually make the compounds and do the experiment. What makes you think that we can predict how a whole living system will behave?
    We do use all sorts of assays to triage compounds so we don’t have to do everything in vivo. That’s why we have hERG assays, kinase selectivity screens, membrane permeability assays, and microsomal incubations. At some point, though, you need to go in vivo to get your readout. There are just too many variables, and many of them we just don’t understand.
    Derek is 100% right on this.

  24. Scared researcher says:

    JK makes some excellent points — so long as every supermarket sells meat, mousetraps, and rat poison, so long as every department store sells leather goods, so long as the phone directory has dozens of listings for people whose JOB is to kill animals we consider annoying, we scientists have NOTHING for which we should feel shame. WE kill for much better reasons, and we treat the animals far more humanely, than much of the rest of society.
    Why don’t they go picket the cafeteria at just about ANY random organization instead of picketing pharma labs!?!?
    Why don’t they go to the home of my brother whose blog contains meat recipes instead of the homes of scientists!?!?!?
    Why don’t they THINK!?!?

  25. MTK says:

    JK, that was an excellent comment.
    Philosophically speaking the animal rights concept of “specism”, that is the discrimination of individuals based on species, which they try to equate to racism, is completely bankrupt. We as humans control and manipulate our natural world to such a degree as to make it impossible not to be committing blatant acts of specism.

  26. eugene says:

    Okay, sure that’s true. But there is one little unfortunate thing that humans have that is called empathy. Unfortunately it extends out to higher animals; if it didn’t, we wouldn’t be human. A bad side effect of evolution trying to get humans to live in societies. Or has everyone forgotten the success of ‘March of the Penguins’ at the box office?
    Every little kid from the city watching the discovery channel will feel sorry for the bear whose leg is being mangled by the steel trap and it is crying out in pain.
    So it makes logical sense for people to want to limit animal testing. It not only kills the animal, it makes the live in horrible pain and agony for a while before death. Besides, ‘Science’ keeps telling us almost every month that some stupid mouse or bird is much more intelligent than we ever thought and has feelings or what-not (I’m sure it increases journal circulation). Sorry, I’m going to disagree with the last few posters on this.
    However, I still support animal tests because I know it’s necessary for human health. It’s just that it’s not as obvious since it doesn’t directly have anything to do with our survival or comfort — until you get sick. Buying meat in a supermarket or fighting off a rat infestation with poison is easier to brush off because the consequences are more apparent.
    Also, a confession. I grew up in a sort of ghetto, and my family’s apartment there was overrun with rats. I remember feeding the little blind rat pups with some bread as a kid. Very cute. And yes, we did get horrible Nazi-like killing and torturing machines, known as cats, to try to get rid of them.

  27. TFox says:

    The ethical (hi #16!) and scientific (hi “skeptic”!) issues are pretty well covered, so I’d like to comment on words. Derek doesn’t usually pull punches, but “to my mind misguided” seems a trifle, well, soft. There’s a well-established word for people who attempt to influence others through fear, intimidation, direct or veiled threats of violence, or violence itself. It’s been a bit overused recently, but still, I think there’s some merit in calling a spade a spade. These people are, to speak plainly, terrorists.

  28. Dean says:

    I think its great that some people in America feel empowered to challenge the power elites of this country. They feel repelled and thus act accordingly.
    Do chemists picket outside the lavish homes of the MBAs that outsource their jobs and pocket the difference? Do they complain when the statistics provided by their own professional societies are outright fabrications? Where are the picket lines in front of Dow or Lily or JnJ or Bristol Meyers?

  29. Pieter says:

    You conveniently left out dogs. Are you feeling too uncomfertable with the use of dogs, Derek, that you left them out of your column? Wouldn’t look good next to disposable mice and rats, a careful choice to leave them out? I work in this industry, struggle openly with the use of dogs and apes (also not mentioned in the column, hm). I find it more disturbing that people don’t dare to speak out during tox meetings and try to cut the use excess animals.

  30. kilou says:

    “The simple fact is that human beings are worth more than animals. This should be a no brainer for anyone who is not a vegetarian on ethical grounds.”
    I’m not an animal activist and I do work for a Pharma…but sorry this kind of sentence is just as ridiculous as killing people to save animals! The “No Brainer” is to close the debate on that topic. The problem of animal testing is a CRUCIAL point in our society and it must be adressed. Saying deliberately that human life are worth thousands of animal lives is as stupid as being creationist! There is no such proof, it’s an ethical question that is unsolved and will probably remain unsolved. I’m shocked to read how some “highly educated” people seem to know more than others, either in the track of animal right activists or scientific.
    Animal testing is something that gains on being debated. It’s not straightforward to accept it, and not only for veggies or extremists!

  31. kilou says:

    “The simple fact is that human beings are worth more than animals. This should be a no brainer for anyone who is not a vegetarian on ethical grounds.”
    I’m not an animal activist and I do work for a Pharma…but sorry this kind of sentence is just as ridiculous as killing people to save animals! The “No Brainer” is to close the debate on that topic. The problem of animal testing is a CRUCIAL point in our society and it must be adressed. Saying deliberately that human life are worth thousands of animal lives is as stupid as being creationist! There is no such proof, it’s an ethical question that is unsolved and will probably remain unsolved. I’m shocked to read how some “highly educated” people seem to know more than others, either in the track of animal right activists or scientific.
    Animal testing is something that gains on being debated. It’s not straightforward to accept it, and not only for veggies or extremists!

Comments are closed.