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Government must set out path to end animal testing if AI eliminates need for it, ministers told

Labour MP Steve McCabe said researchers were turning to new technologies to successfully test new drugs.

Ministers must put an end to animal testing as AI opens new ways for researchers to carry out vital medical experiments, ministers have been told.

Labour MP Steve McCabe said artificial intelligence and other new technologies could be used to test new drugs in the place of experimenting on animals.

He claimed that trials on animals had been a “major contributor” to the failure of new medicines coming to market, and called for the Government to set out how it would end the practice.

Raising the future of human-specific medical research techniques in a Westminster Hall debate, Mr McCabe said: “Like many others, I have in the past defended the use of animal experiments because I believed that the benefits in terms of cures and treatments for human conditions were worth it, despite the ever increasing protest of people associated with the animal welfare lobby.”

The Birmingham Selly Oak MP added: “I know that bringing new drugs to the market can be slow and expensive.

“Since 1950, the cost of developing a new drug has approximately doubled every nine years, and many of those drugs fail and a major contributor to that failure is the problem of translating results of pre-clinical trials to human beings.

“Over 92% of drugs that show promise in animal tests fail to translate into safe and effective medicines for humans.

“Increasingly, researchers are relying on what is known as new research methodologies, based on human biology and utilising artificial intelligence, organ-on-a-chip methods and advanced use of human cells and tissues.”

He called on ministers to mimic the framework of the Climate Change Act in a bid to phase out animal testing over time.

Mr McCabe added: “I hope that I can rely on the minister to hear me, and the Government stands ready to make this change a reality and that we can look forward to updates in the very near future on what steps the Government are taking to advance these new technologies, and to help us put an end to wasteful, sometimes pointless and often very ineffective animal testing.”

Science minister Paul Scully said the Government “actively supports” a principle known as the 3 Rs in relation to animal research: the replacement of it with more human alternatives where possible, the reduction of it to minimise impact, and the refinement of it to cause as little distress to test subjects as possible.

Intervening, Mr McCabe said: “I am curious to know, and I think other people watching this debate will want to know, is it the Government’s intention to move to phasing out animal experiments, or is the minister telling us that the Government thinks there will always be a place for animal experimentation?”

Mr Scully claimed no Government would want to test on animals if it was unnecessary, but added trials remained helpful in developing medicines.

The minister said: “Essentially no-one wants to be using animal testing where it is absolutely not needed. If innovation can come in and that can push that out, if computer models and new research can find new ways of edging it out, why would any Government want to do that?”

He added: “Without basic research using animals, we would limit our ability to make the kind of scientific discovery which can transform medicine for the better. Without translational research using animals we would limit our ability to develop new medicines, not just for humans but for animals too.

“And without testing of these medicines using animals, we would not know if these medicines were safe or effective for use on humans or animals, unnecessarily limiting the availability of medicines to treat life-threatening diseases.”

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