Fewer animals were used to test the safety of life saving drugs in Europe in 2011 than in previous years according to the sixth edition of a research report by the European Commission last week.
The new report shows that across the 27 European Union (EU) member states - 11.5 million animals were used in research in the 12 months to December, which is less than half the number recorded in a previous assessment that was published in 2008.
The document lists how many animals are used in each in each country, breaking the figures down into a number specific of applications, including preclinical toxicology assessment for human and animal pharmaceutical products.
There is significant county to country variation. In Austria for example the number of animals, predominantly rodents, used in research as increased as a result of the growth of the countryâs biomedical research industry and increased pharmaceutical quality control (QC) work.
In Slovenia, in contrast, the number of animals used in drug development has fallen as a result of the use of âvalidated alternative methods and or the use of cell cultures and tissues.â
The report is part of a long-running initiative designed to reduce the number of animals used by the drug industry and in healthcare and academic research in accordance with Article 26 of Directive 86/609/EEC of 24 November 1986.
It is also in keeping with various legislative measures that have been introduced. For example, in March Europe banned the sale of cosmetics tested on animals, which accelerated and intensified efforts to develop alternatives.
Drugs, however, are a different story. While various cell culture and chemical alternatives are available for cytotoxicity, genotoxicity and phototoxicity testing, it is a regulatory requirement in Europe that all candidate therapies are assessed in animals before they enter clinical trials.
This point was emphasised by UK fertility pioneer Lord Robert Winston earlier this year .
Lord Winston called for laws mandating that drugs are labelled as âproduced as a result of research on animalsâ to make clear the vital role animal research played in their development and counter the arguments of groups who say such work is unnecessary.
At the time Lord Winston said that: âIt [the Bill] is designed to show the hypocrisy of those who try to pretend to unknowing members of the public that animal research can be abandoned. It is designed to help the pharmaceutical companies to put their head above the parapet.â
Lord Winstonâs Bill had its second reading in October and has now reached the committee stage .
Campaigners are still hopeful the reduction in animal use indicates that scientists are recognising the potential of alternative models in non-mandate research.
The UK branch of People for the Athical Treatment Animals (PETA) told Outsourcing-pharma.com it âwelcomes the announcement of a 4 per cent decrease in the number of animals used in painful and deadly experiments across the EU.
âThese data are evidence that superior research technologies and the public's growing disgust with animal testing are moving us closer to a world in which every laboratory cage is empty.â