The Concordat on Openness on Animal Research was published on
Wednesday after lengthy negotiations between scientists,
universities, medical charities, drug firms, journalists and members
of the public.
It covers activities in the UK only, but was signed by 72
organizations based in Britain and overseas, such as U.S.-based
Pfizer which is seeking to buy AstraZeneca.
"This widespread support for openness demonstrates the change in
attitude we have seen from the life science sector over the last few
years," said Geoff Watts, who chaired the steering group that drew
up the agreement.
Britons broadly support the use of animals in experiments, under
strict conditions and only when there is no alternative.
An Ipsos MORI poll conducted in 2012 found around 80 percent of
those asked were "conditional acceptors" of the use of animals in
scientific research - in other words, they agreed with it for
medical purposes and/or in good welfare conditions.
But around a fifth of Britons are unhappy about the use of animals
in research, and many say they would like to know more about what
goes on in laboratories where animal experiments are conducted.
Some 4.11 million experiments were carried out on animals in Britain
in 2012, the vast majority of them (74 percent) on mice.
The concordat obliges signatories to "be clear about when, how and
why" animals are used, and enhance communications with the media and
the public about such work.
It also commits them to being "proactive in providing opportunities
for the public to find out about research using animals" and report
each year on progress and experiences.
Scientists use animals in medical, veterinary and basic research, to
develop medicines and other treatments for humans and animals, and
to understand biological processes.
Researchers often refer to "animal models" to describe how animals
are used to simulate the physiology of humans, or a medical
condition that affects humans. Genetically modified animals, usually
mice, rats and fish, are used to understand the function of certain
genes and study the genetics of diseases.
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New medical treatments are required by law in Britain to be tested
on animals before being used for human trials, and regulatory work,
such as testing batches of drugs, also requires animal screening in
order to protect patients.
Jeremy Farrar, director of international medical charity the
Wellcome Trust, said the agreement would boost "informed dialogue
between researchers and the wider public that is healthy for both
science and society".
The Wellcome Trust is a signatory to the agreement, as are Britain's
Medical Research Council and more than two dozen UK universities.
"Almost all of the most important advances in medicine have relied
on information gained from animal experiments, and this field of
research remains critical to driving the improvements in human and
animal health which our funding seeks to support," Farrar told
reporters at a briefing in London.
"But like all research, animal experiments should proceed with the
consent of society, and that requires openness about how and why
they take place."
(Reporting by Kate Kelland; Editing by Catherine Evans)
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