The declaration, which is being signed by universities, funders and charities, is the first step in producing a concordat which will set out principles of open communication, as well as some practical steps and measurable objectives for a more transparent approach across the bioscience community.
The declaration was in response to the latest MORI poll commissioned by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills which showed a slight drop in the public acceptance of animal research. Whilst the majority of people still support the need for animals to be used in medical research where there is no alternative, the figures also show that a significant proportion of the population want to know more about the reasons why animals are used and the strict conditions under which that use is regulated.
The poll also indicated a fall in trust in the regulation of animal experimentation in the UK. 43% expect that the rules in Britain on animal experimentation are well enforced, down from 56% in 2010.
At a press briefing to launch the declaration and the poll, David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science, discussed how life sciences using animal research not only brought about significant advances in the treatment of disease but was also of great economic importance in the UK. Mr Willetts also spoke of the Government’s support (via the MRC and BBSRC) for The National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs), an independent organisation that supports the UK science base to replace, refine and reduce the use of animals in research and which funds research into replacing, refining and reducing the use of animals in research.
Stephen Whitehead, Chief Executive of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, stated that the signing of this Declaration “marked a ‘sea change’ in the life sciences community. We are now in a position where we can take a more forthright approach about the necessity of our research. We will not be afraid to admit that we will continue to carry out research in this way until viable alternatives are found.”
Professor Sir John Savill, Chief Executive of the Medical Research Council, said “People choose to work in medical research because they want to find cures and treatments for disease. Sometimes their research will involve the use of animals but it’s not a quick, cheap or easy option; animals are used when they’re the only option. Fortunately, UK research animals have never been better cared for and their use has never been more strictly regulated. We’re constantly looking at ways to reduce the number of animals used and to replace them with alternatives but, right now, their use is still necessary.
“The MRC has a long-held policy of being transparent about animal use and we believe we have a duty to be open to the taxpayers whose money we spend. We’re not just open, we’re proud of that research. This year alone, MRC-funded researchers have used mice to look at a mechanism which may hold the key to why brain cells die and cause dementia; transplanted stem cells into gerbils to cure deafness; and have successfully used adult human retinal stem cells to partially restore vision in rats, a crucial step in bringing forward a cure for some forms of blindness and giving hope to many patients.
“It's hard to think of any treatment or drug therapy available today that has not relied on the use of animals at some point in its development and, where there is no viable alternative, we will continue to use animals in research to improve people’s lives.”