BioWorld International Correspondent
BRUSSELS, Belgium - The European Parliament has urged that a deadline be set for ending the use of non-human primates in animal experimentation. The proposal comes just as the European Union prepares to tighten its 20-year old legislation on animal experimentation, which has intensified concerns right across the biopharmaceutical industry in Europe.
The parliament has adopted a written declaration urging the EU to make an urgent priority of ending the use of apes and wild-caught monkeys in scientific experiments. It also wants a timetable for replacing the use of all non-human primates in scientific experiments.
British socialist member David Martin, one of the backers of the declaration, said: "Primates are so close to humans in their social, mental and emotional functions, that putting them through the extreme trauma of scientific testing should be unthinkable. Aside from this consideration scientific tests on primates are often bad science."
His views reflect those of most Europeans who responded to a public consultation on animals in experiments.
The parliament declaration underlined that advanced technology - including tissue and cell culture - provides more efficient and reliable alternative methods to primate experiments. But leading European biopharmaceutical industry figures are vigorously countering the suggestion that animal experimentation can be rapidly replaced.
Jacqueline Hunter, head of research at GlaxoSmithKline, of London, told BioWorld International that despite numerous advances, many derived from biotechnology techniques, "The simple fact of the matter is that we haven't actually been able to develop non-animal alternatives for safety and efficacy testing."
It is "unrealistic to abandon primates if we want vaccines and novel antibody therapies to be developed," she said.
Industry executives are apprehensive that the review of the 1986 regulations will lead to unduly stringent new controls, largely in response to animal rights activism. That could threaten the use of transgenic animals, for instance, or impose insurmountable bureaucratic obstacles.
"We want an open and balanced debate, and at present there is the risk that it is clouded by emotion. We need to get patients and regulators involved, to discuss what is feasible," Hunter noted.
For Brian Ager, director general of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations, the danger is that the review of the new rules will start out with the best of intentions, but could then deliver worse rather than better working conditions for the biopharmaceutical industry.