Drug firms confident of faster approval for tests on animals

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The Government has given a commitment to the British pharmaceutical industry to cut the bureaucracy surrounding animal experiments, with reform likely to come as early as next year.

The Government has given a commitment to the British pharmaceutical industry to cut the bureaucracy surrounding animal experiments, with reform likely to come as early as next year.

Under proposals being considered by Lord Sainsbury, the Science Minister, the time it takes to receive a licence to conduct animal research could be cut from 18 months to a matter of weeks.

The likely move follows repeated warnings from scientists both in business and academia that Britain's tough regulations on medical research risk forcing multinational companies to move their entire research operations abroad.

However, the changes are likely to result in a sharp increase in the number of animals used in medical research, igniting the fury of the animal rights lobby. While Britain has the some of the world's strictest restrictions on animal experiments, it conducts the largest number of animal experiments of any European country.

Glaxo Wellcome and SmithKline Beecham are locating the operational headquarters of their merger in the US and Nycomed Amersham is to relocate its life sciences unit there.

Trevor Jones, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry's director general, said yesterday: "Lord Sainsbury has said he will take action and deliver. There are several meetings coming up in October and I'm confident that within nine months, perhaps six, we will have arrived at some relatively pragmatic solutions. I do not see it involving a change in legislation."

Dr Jones stressed that there would be absolutely no relaxation of the standards of safety and animal welfare, with the proposals relating only to unnecessary form-filling. He said a scientist could complete an experiment in the US in less time than it took to complete an application to conduct the same research in Britain.

The proposals are being examined by a government taskforce established to investigate ways of boosting Britain's pharmaceutical industry. The taskforce includes representatives from academia, the Department of Trade and Industry, the Department of Health as well as two members of the ABPI.

A spokesman for Lord Sainsbury said: "There is nothing impending, but all sorts of things can happen in six to nine months."

The Government came to power pledging to cut the number of animals used in experiments, at a time when they had been declining steadily over the last two decades. However, scientists say the number of experiments will have to increase dramatically if Britain is to exploit the potential unleashed by the mapping of the human genome.

In June, 110 scientists, including five Nobel Prize winners and 38 Fellows of the Royal Society, wrote an open letter to Lord Sainsbury saying cumbersome bureaucracy surrounding animal research threatened the future of British medical science.

Wendy Higgins, campaigns director of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, said: "If the Government does this it will provoke a huge backlash. The process does involve a lot of form filling, and so it should. This country should not keep animal research at all costs."

Dr Jones said: "I don't expect sympathy. This is the way that new therapies are going to arise. We've seen the closure of a number of labs over the last year and the net result is that you will curb economic growth in Britain."

Comments