Emma Hardy – 2023 Speech on Commercial Breeding for Laboratories

The speech made by Emma Hardy, the Labour MP for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle, in Westminster Hall, the House of Commons on 16 January 2023.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Efford. I congratulate the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) on his excellent opening speech.

It might come as a surprise—it certainly did to me—that animal experimentation is on the increase in the UK. As we have heard, according to the Government’s own figures, in 2021 over 3 million scientific procedures were conducted on animals in Great Britain, which is an increase of 6% on 2020. The use of dogs increased by 3%, cats by 6%, horses by 29% and monkeys by 17%. Some 80% of experiments on animals were for research-only purposes. Commercial breeding exists to meet the demands and needs of this industry in animal experimentation; without that demand, commercial breeding would not exist, and there would be no need to have this debate.

I think it is fair to say that when I talk to members of the public about this issue, those who do accept animal research think that we have to have it because it is the only option and it really benefits humans. They therefore support commercial breeding for the same reason. However, I think most of those people are unaware that, when it comes to treatment for humans, there is a growing body of evidence that animal procedures produce poor-quality results, and in some cases can actually hold back progress.

Scientific progress has shown us that many assumptions we held as common sense were wrong; the discovery of DNA and the sequencing of entire genomes has shown the amazing close relatedness between the genetic make-up of different mammals. However, when it comes to how those genes actually function—the internal chemistry of animals—our common-sense assumption that humans are not the same as mice, dogs, monkeys, cats, or any other animals used in scientific research and testing, has proven correct. While supporters of animal experiments will point to the successes of the development of the cancer drug Herceptin and diabetic insulin, there are failures as well, such as TGN1412, where a dose 500 times smaller than the “safe and effective” dose used in animals killed five human subjects, and Vioxx; relying solely on its results when tested on monkeys resulted in the deaths of, and injuries to, nearly 8,000 people.

To be of value, a research method must prove reliably predictive results. Animal methods fail to do that, for a number of reasons. Major differences exist between species, relating to anatomy, organ structure and function, metabolism, chemical absorption, genetics and lifespan. A homogenous group of animals living in a controlled experimental setting cannot predict varied human patients with their individual life histories and wide range of environmental factors. Artificially created diseases in animals in laboratories cannot accurately reflect naturally occurring human illnesses. Common adverse reactions from humans, such as nausea, mental disturbance, dizziness, fatigue, depression, confusion and double vision, cannot be detected in animals.

A number of articles have been published in The BMJ and elsewhere criticising the lack of any systematic review of the efficacy of using animals in biomedical research. In fact, a bias in favour of animal research has been shown to be holding back progress in some areas—we have already heard the example of Alzheimer’s treatments. I fear that millions of pounds and tens of thousands of hours of research may have been wasted on a scientific dead end, but worse than the time and money wasted: a drug that damages animals in early tests and is therefore abandoned could be safe and effective in humans. Valuable drugs that were nearly lost because of their toxicity in animals include the breast cancer drug Tamoxifen and the leukaemia drug Gleevec.

We cannot know how many potential treatments have been overlooked in this way, but thankfully, as we have heard, there are alternatives that focus on human biological processes to investigate disease and potential treatments. Those use human cells, tissues and organs, and existing data and technologies such as organ-on-a-chip technology or artificial intelligence, along with other procedures. They are called the new approach methodologies. By providing results that are directly relevant to human patients, NAMs are much more likely to generate breakthroughs than outdated animal-based techniques.

NAMs and human-relevant research is a fast-growing sector, and one in which the UK has the potential to be right at the forefront of innovation, leading the way. At the University of Oxford, for example, Dr Paul Holloway has developed a new, animal-free model of stroke, as we have just heard. Using organ-on-a-chip technology, he was able to replicate the human blood-brain barrier and mimic stroke, enabling new possibilities to test stroke drugs in human cells. A 2021 report by the Centre for Economics and Business Research predicted that the UK NAM industry could contribute £2.5 billion to UK GDP by 2026, an increase of 700% from 2017. There is so much that the Government could and should be doing to promote that area of technology.

I support three of the proposals from Animal Free Research UK, which has urged Members to speak in this debate: to produce an action plan for encouraging the widespread adoption of human-relevant research techniques; to launch a well-resourced programme of practical support and training to improve awareness and knowledge of human-relevant techniques; and to provide funding to improve the human relevance of research on a scale that reflects the urgency and importance of the issue.

I urge the Minister to take whatever steps she can to move research away from the cruel, wasteful and unhelpful focus on animal experimentation, and towards a future of new technologies and research methods focused on human modelling that are better for us, better for animals and better for our economy.