Is FRAME abandoning the centre ground?

24 August 2015

Posted by: Chris Magee

Category: Staff blog

The Fund for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments (FRAME) has long been a civilising force in the debate about the use of animals in experiments, sensibly accepting the current need for animal models whilst agitating to find alternatives. It was peculiar to see them, then, writing to planning minister Greg Clark to demand he overturn a decision to allow a dog breeding facility in East Yorkshire.

The facility is designed to remove the present need to fly puppies into the UK to be used in medical and veterinary research. FRAME’s letter confusingly thinks that this will make experiments ’easier, implying that supply drives demand.

Nor does the availability of dogs circumvent special protections, which mean dogs cannot be used for research if another animal could be used in their place. The letter is, however, correct in its calls for greater investment in developing alternatives to animals in research, a position UAR can get behind, and indeed has lobbied on. 

Perhaps the oddest point expressed in the letter is the assertion that human medicines would be safer if not tested on animals. As the authors put it:

“The other major direct beneficiary will be the UK public. Right now, they can be exposed to medicines which may cause severe unwanted side effects.” 

This particular misconception was recently taken apart at FRAME’s annual lecture where it had been raised by the Safer Medicines Trust. In response it was noted that before being released to the ‘UK Public’ all medicines undergo three stages of human trials before they are introduced gradually, usually by hospital consultants, as their best applications in a clinical setting are explored.

The claim that current medicines have harmful side effects which animal research has failed to predict has previously been made by the Safer Medicines Trust, citing this 2004 paper http://www.bmj.com/content/329/7456/15.long, which reports on cases where side-effects of medicines have led to people being admitted to hospital.  However, the paper’s authors write:

 “Most reactions were either definitely or possibly avoidable. Drugs most commonly implicated in causing these admissions included low dose aspirin, diuretics, warfarin, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs other than aspirin, the most common reaction being gastrointestinal bleeding.”

This indicates that these were known side-effects: the stuff that’s on the leaflet that comes with your medicines. Aspirin accounted for 61% of the small number of fatalities.   Aspirin is a drug that has been around for over 100 years and was not required to be tested on animals before it was licensed for human use.

Severe, unpredictable side-effects which not only elude animal studies, but also three stages of human study and early introduction to patients via hospitals are vanishingly rare. And since nothing gets the nod on the basis of animal data alone, the claim that testing on animals leads to drug side-effects is necessarily bogus. There is nothing to prevent the ‘alternative’ in vitro methods being used alongside the human and animal models in a complementary way, as the pharmaceutical industry is already doing where the technology exists.

It seems unlikely that a drug that did not lead to an adverse reaction in a human would test positive in a sample of ‘human tissues’, even though this is the strange implication of the FRAME letter.

Also signing the letter is the Kennel Club, whose members (through medical research), and their dogs (through veterinary research) are the direct beneficiaries of research using dogs. The Kennel Club produces a leaflet about travelling abroad with a dog.  This states that dogs must be vaccinated against rabies, but neglects to mention that the rabies vaccination was developed using animal research.  Kennel Club members have also benefited from treatments and vaccines for canine parvovirus and canine distemper virus, again developed using research in dogs and other animals. Perhaps if they’d thought it through a little more they might have seen their hypocrisy, or maybe they are genuinely unaware how human and animal medicines come into existence. FRAME, however, should and actually does know better.

This letter, then, and its wilfully misleading contents, must surely be seen as FRAME’s desire to depart the centre ground to become a campaigning organisation. That’s a shame because, as I’ve written before, a campaign based on trickery hits a brick wall when it gets to Whitehall. You can shock a lay audience with talk of adverse reactions and pretend human clinical trials don’t exist, but Greg Clark cannot and will not overturn a planning decision because people on a low dose of aspirin developed bleeding intestines.

The reduction of the use of animals in experiments is enough of an end in itself without having to dream up ropey narratives that pretend animal models are unscientific or somehow lead to adverse reactions. Banning or restricting research, as most of the big campaigning companies wish to do, merely offshores it and places it beyond the world’s strictest regulations. There are precisely two things which will reduce animal use: 1) more funding to find alternatives and 2) validation and encouraging uptake of those alternative methods. The UK’s National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement & Reduction of Animals in Research is leading the world in this work.  If any campaigning organisations, political parties or funds for the replacement of animals in medical experiments wish to join UAR in the middle ground to push this agenda forward we look forward to working with you.