Last week, I led a parliamentary debate on ending animal testing for new drugs and medicines. It’s a controversial subject with renewed interest since news that, after a 25-year ban, the government has agreed to resume some tests for cosmetic ingredients.
I’ll confess that, despite knowing how strongly people feel about animal testing, I’ve been inclined to defend it when told it could lead to new cures and treatments for conditions which cause human death and suffering.
I’ve changed my mind since meeting with Animal Free Research UK and scientists at the Institute of Translational Medicine at the University of Birmingham. I discovered that 92% of drugs and treatments that show promise during animal tests fail to successfully translate to safe and effective human medicines. This is because animal biology is very different to humans. Equally important, we’re now capable of producing better tests, based on human biology and new technologies. Liver-on-a-chip (micro-chip) technology has a far greater success rate in predicting whether a new medicine will prove toxic to the human liver than any animal experiment.
It’s also a rapidly growing sector which can create jobs for the future and where Britain can take a significant lead. Several companies are already based here but the USA is making huge inroads and might leave the British research behind unless we act quickly. There’s little doubt that the work of the Precision Health Technologies Accelerator in my Selly Oak constituency could be a real gamechanger.
One experiment I witnessed in Birmingham involves a lab model of a human cornea which researchers hope will allow real advances in treating eye conditions and perhaps lead to restoring the sight of some who have gone blind.
As with all exciting initiatives, we need government support. Now is the time to get behind this work, phase out animal research and ensure that a city like ours becomes a world leader.