Testing of medicines on animals – Some facts for pill-poppers with a conscience
Posted on June 15, 2017
Writing about our four-legged friends often makes me feel a bit of a hypocrite. Issues like animal testing and unethical farming really upset me. But, as the international movement towards veganism and vegetarianism grows – I am still a meat eater (though I source it as consciously as possible – usually from Bannatyne’s Little Farm). I am also the mother of a gorgeous dog-child whom I love dearly. Yet I work in medicine in South Africa, where drugs are tested on animals just like my Labrador every day. My point here is that it’s really difficult to be entirely consistent – and I’m not sure that many people manage.
In South Africa, you can be a conscientious vegan, use only natural products which are totally free of animal-derivatives, ethically and sustainably produced… But did you know that if you pop a Panado (or any other drug scheduled by the Medicines Control Council) it will, at some point, have been tested on animals?
Here are the facts (and please bear in mind that this applies to registered drugs only – identifiable by their S (1,2,3,4,5) on the label). When pharmaceutical companies embark on the development of a new drug, they are legally obliged to undertake stringent, phased testing of the product. Without this testing, medicine regulators across the world will decline to register the drug in their country, and pharma companies will not be able to reap the profits of their R&D (a different issue altogether). The steps in drug research and development are depicted below:
Testing in animals is much like Phase 1 and 2 clinical trials in humans. If a new compound is particularly toxic in the animal population, it is unlikely to make it into the human testing phase. If a drug is shown to be even marginally effective in animal trials, it usually progresses to human studies. Over the last decade – if not longer – the merits of animal testing have been questioned by scientists, ethicists and animal rights activists alike. The crux of the matter is that there really isn’t that much evidence that findings in animal trials translate into the human population – and drugs which have been withstood by animals have been deadly to humans in phase 1 trials.
In South Africa, animal testing is legislated. It is regulated through Animal Ethics Committees, who prescribe standard practices for testing procedures and living conditions for lab animals. As someone who believes that every cat, dog and rabbit should have a warm bed at night, I’m too biased to comment on these. But at least clinical drug trials are regulated – development of vitamins, supplements and cosmetics is often not regulated at all. And who knows what is happening in those industries. (Animal testing for cosmetic purposes has been banned in Europe – a giant leap in the right direction imho).
My hope for the future is that as lab techniques become more sophisticated, and as “couture medicine” – drugs targeting a person’s unique genetic make-up – becomes more widespread, we can scrap animal testing altogether.