New Cruelty Free International study reveals claimed benefits of animal research are exaggerated in UK national press–and ultimately false

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New science paper reveals animal tests are over-hyped and rarely translate to success in humans

LONDON, Oct. 21, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — A comprehensive analysis of animal research ‘breakthroughs’ reported in the UK national press has revealed that exaggeration of the value and successes of animal testing is widespread in the national print media.

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The paper, authored by Cruelty Free International scientists, published this week in the peer-reviewed biomedical journal BMJ Open Science, shows the high degree of exaggeration and over-speculation of animal testing in the media, and how rarely animal-based ‘breakthroughs’ translate to human benefit [1].

The study reviews both the perceived degree of value of animal research to human benefit, and the exaggeration of animal research in the media. It looks at articles in the UK national press published in 1995 that reported animal research ‘breakthroughs’ in specific areas of science (such as for cancer or Alzheimer’s treatment), and which directly speculated that these findings would result in eventual human benefit through further clinical investigation.

Twenty-five years later the articles have been examined in detail and have found to greatly over-speculate the relevance and benefits of animal studies to humans, and to often exaggerate the eventual outcomes.

The results of the analysis support the increasing evidence of the general lack of human relevance of animal studies. This includes the 90-plus percent failure rate of new, animal-tested drugs in human trials, the poor clinical translation of research involving animals, and the limited value of using animals in research for human diseases such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, sepsis and motor neurone disease.

Key Findings include

  • News articles reporting animal research ‘breakthroughs’ were, invariably, replete with hyperbole and over-speculation.
  • The level of over-speculation can be determined by the significant failure of the animal-based ‘breakthroughs’ to result in human benefit, even after 25 years to allow for development.
  • Just one of the 27 different ‘breakthrough’ reports examined resulted in clinical use and human benefit, and, even then, with significant caveats.
  • Twenty of the ‘breakthroughs’ failed outright to translate to human benefit, while the remaining six were classed as inconclusive (3 cases) or, at best, partially successful (3 cases).

Dr Katy Taylor, Director of Science and Regulatory Affairs at Cruelty Free International, said:

“The case against animal experiments is stronger than ever. We consistently see new papers showing the poor human relevance of animal research in different fields, why animal data can never reliably translate to humans, and how humane and human-specific research is the real key to progress. Yet we see claims that animal testing is essential for medical progress frequently in the media. If animal research really was a cornerstone of medical progress, we would be able to look back at specific claims of promises made in the past and see that findings from animal experiments had led directly to human clinical benefits.

“Exaggerating the value of animal research has serious negative consequences. It risks creating false confidence and hope in animal experiments among the public and in biomedical professionals engaged in research. There are implications for the policies of governments, for regulators and funders.

“We urgently need a shift in attitude and to be more open and honest about the value of animal research for humans. Much more effort and focus needs to be placed on non-animal methods, which are not only more effective and human-relevant, but also more humane.”

For more information or quotes, please contact the Cruelty Free International media office; email: media@crueltyfreeinternational.org.

NOTES

1. Clinical impact of high-profile animal-based research reported in the UK national press: https://openscience.bmj.com/content/4/1/e100039

Cruelty Free International is one of the world’s longest standing and most respected animal protection organisations. The organisation is widely regarded as an authority on animal testing issues and is frequently called upon by governments, media, corporations and official bodies for its advice or expert opinion.

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