Last month was a Science on Tap talk I helped put together dealing with how animals are used as part of drug development, titled “Drug Safety and Animal Research – No Safe Alternatives” The speaker was a veterinarian working for SNBL, a company that is involved in the testing the safety of new drugs.
The main focus of her talk looked at things in a broader perspective than just how animals are used, and she spent a lot of time going through history of regulations needed to show the benefits of medicine before it is given to public. This was an effective way to make it clear why we use animals for the things we do. It’s easy to take for granted the relative assurance we have when we get a prescription filled that the drugs we take will do what they are supposed to and have minimal danger associated with it. It was just a little less than 40 years ago when regulations were added to require evidence of the effectiveness of a new drug before it could be marketed. While this process isn’t perfect, we’ve derived a lot of benefit from these kinds of requirements.
With that context it’s a little clearer to see the value of having animals available to tests these drugs prior to making them available to people. While we can learn some things from cell culture or other simple systems, we ultimately need an actual living organism to learn some of the affects the drug will have. It seems much more reasonable to rely an animal models from some of this than it would be to have to wait until patients start taking the drugs to learn about adverse effects.
Specifically looking at how animals are used, I think the speaker made a couple of points of very good points. First she made it very clear how the ultimate motivation of her work is to ensure the drugs that are being offered will be safe for whoever is taking them, both human and animal (and used a few good examples of how animals benefit from this work too, which is often overlooked). The use of animals in the testing is necessary part of this process, and one that would be avoided if it could be. A second important point was that if we want to know if something is having an adverse effect, then it is important that the animals that are being used in the test would be otherwise healthy. With this being the case the testers have a strong motivation to treat their subjects well, even if for nothing other than their own benefit.
Overall, I thought this was a good overview of this part of the drug development process, which many people may not be familiar with. I’m happy I had to chance to work with the Science on Tap folks to put it together, and hope FOSEP can work with them for more events.