“the preclinical testing of pharmaceuticals in dogs cannot
be justified on scientific or ethical grounds“
The Times of 15 March 2014 contained a report by Tom Whipple, 1 entitled Defences come down as animal testers dare to say they’re proud. He recorded a visit to the Harlan beagle facility, near Cambridge, where, having seen that “a room of 100 three-week-old beagles is a room of shambolic stumbling cuteness”, he turned to the “rather more orderly process” of training puppies.
“One after another”, he reported, “beagles are asked to sit, stand and offer their forelimb. Then they move to the more advanced training: offering up their jugular — so they can get used to having blood taken; sitting still with a mask on their face — so that they can receive medication; allowing clippers to be run over their neck — in case they need to be shaved. When the training is complete, they will be ready to send out for medical experimentation.”
An editorial in the same issue of The Times, entitled Animal Rights and Wrongs; the harsh truth is that vivisection is often the lesser of two evils,2 said that, given that animal experimentation “has helped deliver, along with numerous other pharmaceutical victories, a vaccine for rabies and a means of regulating diabetes, few people would be willing to sacrifice these triumphs to prolong the life of a beagle. Or a thousand beagles, come to that. In the moral calculus that has to be performed, most people would come down on the side of the experiments.”
As expected, these two pieces have led to a number of widely-different reactions. Not surprisingly, they were welcomed by Understanding Animal Research in various ways (e.g. 3) and roundly condemned by others (e.g. 4). Whether or not it is morally acceptable to use a species widely considered to be man’s best friend, and which unselfishly provides us with support in various ways, such as in guiding the blind, is a legitimate and important subject for debate. However, a no less important consideration is whether the use of thousands of dogs in medical research and drug testing is scientifically justifiable and can be considered to be an unavoidable necessity. Such justification, totally ignored by Whipple and The Times leader writer, is an inescapable requirement, before laboratory experiments on dogs become ethically acceptable and legally permissible. Despite this requirement, regulatory agencies worldwide require preclinical testing in a rodent and a non-rodent species, in attempts to ensure that new pharmaceuticals are effective and sufficiently safe for use in humans.
The non-rodent species used is usually the dog, but there is little supportive evidence of the value or necessity of such use. Recently, Bailey et al.5 evaluated an extensive data set of 2,366 drugs, for which both human and animal data were available. They concluded that the absence of toxicity in dogs provided virtually no evidence that adverse drug reactions would also be absent in humans, so the preclinical testing of pharmaceuticals in dogs cannot be justified on scientific or ethical grounds, i.e. it cannot be considered to be necessary.
It is to be hoped that the work of Bailey et al. will lead to a re-evaluation by toxicologists, pharmacologists, pharmaceutical companies, regulators and governments, of the need for preclinical studies in dogs. It is also hoped that this re-evaluation will be combined with greater efforts to develop and validate human-oriented, non-animal test methods and strategies. In the meantime, while words such as evil are best left to leader writers, what is unnecessary cannot be right, so it must be wrong.6
1 Whipple, T. (2014). Defences come down as animal testers dare to say they’re proud. The Times, 15 March
2014. Available at: http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/science/article4034652.ece
2 Anon. (2014). Animal Rights and Wrongs. The Times, 15 March 2014. Available at: http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/opinion/leaders/article4034294.ece
3 Anon. (2014). Openness in animal research news. Understanding Animal Research, 19 March 2014. Available at: http://www.understandinganimalresearch.org.uk/news/2014 /03/openness-in-animal-research-news/
4 Andrews, J. (2014). Monsters. Dissident Voice, 22 March 2014. Available at: http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/opinion/leaders/article4034294.ece
5 Bailey, J., Thew, M. & Balls, M. (2014). An analysis of the use of dogs in predicting human toxicology and drug safety. ATLA 41, 335–350.
6 Readers of PiLAS are invited to comment on this editorial and/or on the literature referred to.