We are a nation of animal lovers, and animal welfare has been a key priority since my election to parliament.
Animal research has long played a vital role in providing safety information for potential new medicines. As a result of findings from animal studies, a large number of potential new drugs never get as far as being tested in humans. Some aspects of the toxicological assessment of new medicines cannot be adequately assessed in humans, and animal data will be the only kind available.
I would, however, like to reassure constituents that the UK's rigorous regulatory system ensures that no animal testing or research takes place if a non-animal alternative exists that would achieve the scientific outcomes sought and I share the Government's commitment to the development of alternatives to using animals in scientific procedures. I am glad the Government actively supports and funds the development and dissemination of the 3Rs (replacement, reduction and refinement) for the use of animals in scientific procedures.
I strongly advocate for these methods and believe they will greatly improve our animal welfare standards, the economy and the safety of chemical products in the UK.
This is achieved through UK Research and Innovation’s funding of the National Centre for the 3Rs, which works nationally and internationally to drive the uptake of non-animal technologies, and through research into the development of alternatives by Innovate UK, the Medical Research Council, and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. The National Centre for the 3Rs (NC3Rs) is the UK’s leading scientific based organisation dedicated to replacing, refining, and reducing the use of animals in scientific research and testing. The NC3Rs supports the research community to use the latest science and technology to replace animal studies, providing new approaches for biomedical research, and avoiding the time and cost associated with animal models.
Since the NC3Rs was launched in 2004, the Government has invested £77 million in research towards developing new approaches in scientific procedures, and an additional £32 million through its CRACK IT programme for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises and universities to work with the pharmaceutical and chemical industries on collaborative 3Rs projects that aim to generate commercial opportunities in this area. The recommendations in the Non-Animal Technologies Roadmap continue to be delivered including a £1.6 million commitment for the development of a virtual dog to help reduce the use of dogs in the safety testing of new medicines and £4.7 million funding for next generation non-animal technologies that provide reliable, predictive and cost-effective alternatives to the use of animals.
Scientists and representatives from regulatory bodies are involved in these efforts to accelerate the use of non-animal technologies. I welcome such endeavours and I greatly encourage them to go further.
Furthermore, the Government has announced that no new licences will be granted for animal testing of chemicals that are exclusively intended to be used as ingredients in cosmetics products. I understand that the Government is also engaging with the relevant companies to urgently determine a way forward on legacy licences.
Nonetheless, at the present time, without animal testing it is highly likely that a large number of potentially dangerous new medicines would be tested on healthy volunteers and patients in clinical trials. This would be completely unacceptable. However, as I mentioned earlier, the Home Office regulator, the Animals in Science Regulation Unit, will only grant licences to use animals in science where there are no alternatives, where the number of animals used is the minimum needed to achieve the scientific benefit, and where the potential harm to animals is limited to that needed to achieve the scientific benefit.
That said, I welcome the Government's commitment to the development of non-animal technologies. Such technologies have the potential to reduce the reliance on the use of animals, improve the efficiency of drug research and development, and deliver safer, cheaper and more effective medicines to patients.
I hope this update has been useful.