Thank you for contacting me about animal research in the development of medical treatments and for defence purposes.
I understand your concerns regarding the use of animals in scientific testing. I believe that the use of animals should be avoided wherever possible, and in the limited cases when animals are used, this should be done in accordance with strict guidelines to ensure any suffering is minimised.
Regrettably, however, it remains the case that animal research still plays an important role in providing vital safety information for potential new medicines. It is worth remembering that, as a result of findings from animal studies, a large number of potential new drugs never get as far as being tested in humans. Some aspects of the toxicological assessment of new medicines cannot be adequately assessed in humans, and animal data will be the only kind available.
Without animal testing it is highly likely that a large number of potentially dangerous new medicines would be tested in healthy volunteers and patients in clinical trials, and I know Ministers believe that this would be quite unacceptable. However, animals are only used when there are no suitable alternatives, and by encouraging new cutting-edge approaches to science we will ensure that standards of animal welfare are improved.
I fully support all steps to establish new methods and to support the life sciences and research industry. However, existing scientific research methods ensure that, by the time medicines reach clinical trial, risks are significantly reduced.
On the use of anaimals in tests carried out at Porton Down, as I am sure you are aware, the work done by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) helps provide the latest scientific and technological advantages for the UK's Armed Forces and other security organisations. It remains the case that finding solutions to the technological problems faced by our service personnel unfortunately cannot all currently be addressed without the use of animals in research. I know and understand why this is upsetting for many people, but please be assured that I will continue to press the Government to find alternative methods of conducting tests wherever possible.
I am, however, reassured by the fact that strict procedures are in place to ensure the suffering of animals is kept to a strict minimum. When research programmes are being planned, Dstl follows the ‘3Rs’ principle which mandates that experimental procedures must be sought which replace the use of animals, or reduce the number of animals used, or refine how the animals are treated during the process. I therefore welcome the fact that the number of animals involved in scientific procedures at Porton Down between 2011 and 2019 fell from 9,722 to 1,490.
As necessary as animal testing is for scientific research, I am relieved and heartened that Dstl is able to continue its important work helping to protect the lives of our Armed Force, while also making significant efforts to keep its animal testing to the absolute minimum.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
Craig Whittaker MP