Making Medicines

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It takes about 15 years to make a new medicine. Most fail along the way. Animal research is one small but very important part of the process.

For every animal used to test a medicine 15 people are used.

More than 77% of research animals are rats and mice.

It takes about 15 years to develop a new medicine.

Just about every medicine that you have ever used has been tested on animals.

The law says you can't use a research animal if there is any alternative.

No chimpanzees, gorillas or other great apes can be used in research (except for human beings, of course).

No animals can be used to test cosmetics in the UK.

The government has to approve every experiment using animals in the UK.

All research animals are looked after by a trained vet who is available 24/7.

Animal research facilities are inspected on average every month. The inspectors can go anywhere and arrive without warning.

The number of animals used for research has fallen by about a third since 1970.

Three licences are needed for every animal experiment.

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The mighty mouse

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Many diseases are caused by protein molecules that go wrong

Before you can start to look for a new medicine, you have to understand the disease and find a target in the body for the medicine to aim at. This is called basic research.

You can only use this in an experiment if there is no way to get results like this.

Basic research happens in vitro and in vivo. In vitro means 'inglass': cells in test tubes, that sort of thing.

In vivo means 'in a living organism'. You can only do it if there is no other way to get results.

Protein diagram

A target for a medicine is often a protein molecule in the body. Proteins can go wrong and cause disease.

Scientists look for chemical compounds that can attach to the protein and 'switch it off' like a key in a lock.

About 100 trillion cells, each one with more parts than your cell phone

Thousands of chemicals are tested using computers and in vitro methods.

The chemicals that work best will eventually be tested in animals. That is because living bodies are much more complex than the models we can make with computers and test tubes.

1. First, a few healthy people take the medicine to check for side effects and work out the dose. 2. If the first stage is OK, the medicine is tried on patients who have the illness. 3. If the first two stages go well the medicine is tested on a large number of people in double blind trials.

Even if the medicine works safely in animals it still needs to be tested in people. These are the clinical trials.

A placebo has no active ingredient. It is often made of flour or sugar but it looks like a real medicine and can have a real effect.

In a double blind trial, some people are given the medicine and some people are given a placebo.

The patients in the trial don't know if they are getting the medicine or the placebo. And the people giving out the pills don't know either. That is what double blind means.

Medicine and Placebo - If they both make patients better, the medicine fails.

A medicine must pass all the clinical trials and work better than the placebo before it can get a government licence.

Quite often the medicine has an effect but the placebo does too. To get a licence, the medicine must work significantly better.

When the government approves the medicine, doctors can start prescribing it and making you better.

Animals play a crucial part in getting us there, but don't forget that for every animal we test on, we use 15 people.