There have been debates about animal testing in Europe for decades. Most recently at the end of 2019 miserable conditions known in a test laboratory near Hamburg. Discussions began again immediately, and general prejudices against the experiments were reinforced. At the same time, the corona pandemic shows how important it is for people to be able to research new pathogens, drugs and vaccines quickly. Also with the help of animal experiments.
Nevertheless, during the peak of the first corona wave, opponents of animal experiments submitted petitions to the European Commission on March 6 and April 30, according to which animal experiments should be completely banned. The initiators justify their move with the fact that the Netherlands already has an exit plan for a world without experiments on animals. So why shouldn’t an end be possible in other states as well?
The question can be answered quite easily, however: In the Netherlands there is no concrete plan to stop animal testing. This is reported by the “Understanding Animal Experiments” initiative in a paper that SPIEGEL has received in advance. Accordingly, the EU Commission did not follow the petitions either. With a view to the corona crisis, well-known researchers are currently warning that excessively strict regulations threaten to impede medical research.
End of the tests by 2025 – by the way
The background to the debate about the Netherlands’ alleged plans to phase out animal testing is an opinion from the local National Committee for the Protection of Experimental Animals in Science (NCad) from 2016. It says that there could be a possibility of gradually introducing standardized safety tests for chemicals to animal tests by 2025 adjust.
However, there are no legislative initiatives or other projects that follow from the repeatedly quoted passage in the report, according to “Understanding Animal Experiments”. The initiative was founded by scientific organizations in Germany and asked the Dutch government about their plans to deal with animal experiments.
The Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences (KNAW) developed a “target image” for cruelty-free innovations in 2018, according to “Understanding Animal Experiments” in its report. Since then, the government has limited itself to leaving the regulations in their current form and promoting alternative methods.
The Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality announced that it was not intended to stop animal testing without an adequate alternative method. In any case, this was not planned in basic and applied research. The year 2025 is no longer on the government’s agenda, writes “Understanding animal experiments.”
Researchers are calling for less bureaucracy
At the beginning of August, more than 80 mostly Dutch researchers explained in an essay why they consider animal experiments to be irreplaceable, especially in biomedical research. In the “Current Biology” journal criticize that the bureaucracy associated with animal testing is consuming too much money, energy and time.
In many cases, the regulations are too inflexible to be able to adapt animal experiments at short notice on the basis of newly acquired knowledge. That slows down the gain of knowledge. In the corona pandemic, ethical reviews have been accelerated, but overall there is a trend towards more and more bureaucracy.
The appeal comes from recognized figures in research. The Dutch virologist Ron Fouchier is a co-author. He made headlines in 2012 because he was involved in experiments Had examined ferretsunder what circumstances the H5N1 bird flu virus could be transmitted from animal to animal and then possibly from person to person. The animals are suitable for such experiments because they transmit respiratory diseases in a similar way to humans.
Alternative method researcher for animal testing
The immunologist and geneticist Hans Clevers also worked on the article. He was President of the KNAW until 2015, where he researches the development of cancer and is a candidate for a Nobel Prize. He is also one of the leading experts in the development of so-called organoids, a type of mini-organ that also serves as a substitute for animal experiments.
Scientists already used these and other methods, such as computer models or cell cultures, when their questions could be answered with them, according to the essay. For ten years researchers in the EU have been obliged to replace animal experiments if possible, to limit the number of animals in individual experiments to a minimum and to keep suffering as low as possible.
Remdesivir initially tested on macaques
They reject the dream of complete renunciation: “There is currently no integrated replacement model available to examine the complex functions of the body,” the researchers write. To find out how the new Sars-CoV-2 coronavirus is transmitted, experts are currently using ferrets again. It is not possible to specifically infect people in order to observe transmissions, as the risk of severe courses is too great.
Researchers are also using rodents, pigs and primates to find out how an infection with the virus can be prevented or treated. In tests with macaques, the drug Remdesivir has been shown to reduce the symptoms of Sars-CoV-2 infection, according to the researchers. The agent is now being tested on Covid 19 patients, there are first positive study results.
Coronavirus: Coronaviruses are a family of viruses to which the Sars-CoV-2 virus, which is currently rampant worldwide, also belongs. Since it initially had no name, in the first few weeks it was referred to as the “novel coronavirus“.
Covid-19: The respiratory disease caused by Sars-CoV-2 was called “Covid-19” (Coronavirus-Disease-2019). Accordingly, Covid-19 patients are people who carry the Sars-CoV-2 virus and show symptoms.
Animals are also indispensable for checking the effectiveness, safety and mode of action of vaccines. We know from the first Sars virus that this is not a trivial task. A vaccine candidate from 2004 led ferrets to develop hepatitis more often instead of developing protection against Sars-CoV-1. The researchers argue that there is no artificial model of the immune system that can be used to study such side effects.
Ultimately, alternative methods to animal experiments were also often based on findings from these. The scientists write that the development of alternative methods is being promoted. “Animal research is still necessary to secure our health system, since alternative methods will never completely replace animal experiments.”