BioWorld International Correspondent

LONDON The UK biotechnology industry must lead the debate on animal testing in medical research and “defend its right to carry out bioscience without fear of violence” from animal rights activists, Paul Drayson, chairman of the BioIndustry Association, told its members last week.

“We are the biotechnology leaders in Europe and during 2001 we increased that lead. But leading Europe in pioneering this new technology also means leading in the ethical debate,” he told more than 450 members of the industry at the BIA’s annual dinner in London last week.

“The animal rights extremists are criminals,” he said. “They are not a legitimate organization. Post September 11, public support for their terror tactics is dwindling.”

Drayson was speaking on the same day as Huntingdon Life Sciences plc was forced to delist from the London Stock Exchange. This followed a two-year campaign by animal rights activists who have intimidated HLS, as well as shareholders, market makers and financial institutions associated with the company.

HLS will list Nasdaq, and has set up a new U.S. corporate legal structure, Life Sciences Research Inc. It will be based in Maryland, where shareholders who own less that 5 percent of a company’s stock can remain anonymous.

“HLS moved its listing to America to get protection for its shareholders,” Drayson said. “We urgently need a similar scheme in the UK.”

Over the past year the BIA has made dealing with the threat posed by animal rights activists its No. 1 objective, and Drayson, who is also CEO of PowderJect Pharmaceuticals plc, told members there has been considerable progress. “The government has done a lot in response to our lobbying, but more is needed.”

In response, Lord Sainsbury, science minister, told the BIA, “Violence is intolerable in a free and democratic society such as our own and the government is determined to bring it to a halt.” He noted that 85 percent of the population accepts that animal testing has to take place and that the UK has the strictest regulatory regime in the world. “The government and industry need proactively to communicate with the public.”

The BIA is planning a summit to bring together industry, academia, government, financiers and patients’ groups to build understanding of the need for, and benefits of, animal research.

Drayson pleaded with BIA members to support this move. “There’s only one way to deal with bullies you stand up to them together. Please take part in the summit, or get involved with and support our campaign.”

On a lighter note, Drayson claimed UK biotech is booming, strengthening its lead in Europe in the past year. “We raised the bulk of the finance including the top four venture capital financings. We now have 128 products in clinical development our nearest European competitor has 28 and we brought eight new medicines to market.”

He added, “Some say Germany is catching up with Britain. I say success is not measured in how many companies you start it’s in how many medicines you create.”

Sainsbury agreed the UK industry leads in Europe, and globally is second only to the U.S. But he added, “We can’t rest on our laurels. Almost every country in the world sees biotechnology as a key industry of the future.”