A recent paper appearing in the journal Business and Society Review has claimed that researching drugs on animals is both ineffective and misleading.
The authors, Lisa A. Kramer and Ray Greek, looked specifically at the impact of animal experiments on stakeholders. They concluded that animal research does more harm than good, even when the welfare of animals is not taken into account.
Kramer and Greek point out that humans are complex systems which differ substantially from animals, and so animal research is based on a flawed paradigm. As a result, there are several ways in which animal studies can cause harm to humans.
The first is that animal research does not always prevent the approval of dangerous drugs for human use. Notorious scandals such as those caused by Vioxx and Thalidomide show that drugs which seem safe in animals are not necessarily safe for humans. This can endanger the people who first take the drug in clinical trials.
Animal experimentation can also lead to disappointments when apparent breakthroughs in animals turn out to be useless in humans. For example, cancer has been curable in mice for decades, but none of the cures have been effective in humans. These failures are commonplace and cost billions, meaning that investors’ money is often wasted.
Finally, animal studies can prevent useful drugs from being approved. Penicillin was ineffective when studies on rabbits, and approval of the polio vaccine was delayed extensively because it failed in animal research. If drugs don’t work when tested on animals, it is likely that they will never be trialed on humans. This means we have probably missed out on many safe and effective drugs, with patients suffering as a result.
Kramer and Greek state that pharmaceutical firms are falling short of their ethical responsibilities by continuing to use animal research. Along with all the disadvantages mentioned above, the failure of animal experiments means that healthcare costs for patients are higher than they would otherwise be.
Many experts now agree that animal experiments are ineffective and better alternatives are available. However, it is still legally required that all new drugs be tested on animals. Kramer and Greek propose that these regulations and policies should be abolished, since there are now many more effective options available which did not exist when the policies were originally formed.
They believe that ‘personalised medicine’ is an especially promising option. This involves predicting whether a medication will work on a particular person by analysing their genes. Personalised medicine is an important development because the effectiveness of medications can vary dramatically between people – another reason why the usefulness of animal testing is very limited.
Kramer and Greek conclude that switching to alternative methods of testing drugs could result in safer and more effective medications, and thus improve health outcomes. Better drugs would also result in improved sales for companies, less wasted money and less danger for research participants. This paper shows that we are long past the stage where animal experiments are the only option for trialing new medications. We could all benefit from leaving it behind – not just animals but patients, investors, pharmaceutical companies and the general public too.
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