Following the recent virality of the campaign #SaveRalph, a debate has been created about animal experimentation around the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industry, generating a mass movement on the part of companies, positioning themselves as strong defenders of animal rights or, on the contrary, claiming the many benefits that can provide animal testing to human safety and quality of life. A campaign that, thanks to its images, has made us ask citizens what is true in those words that we all like to see in what we consume: “Cruelty free”.
It’s hard to deny that animal research has supported great advances in human health. However, many scientists would now agree that, for certain studies, animal experiments are no longer the best way to go.
Among researchers and the public, support appears to be increasing to limit animal research whenever possible. It is not just ethical concerns that are driving this change. Changing the way studies are conducted can also help improve Science. Experimental drugs that appear to be effective in animals often fail in human trials or simply a human disease cannot be modeled on animals.
In Europe 5,000 animals are used annually for cosmetic development and 3.6 million for drug development. This difference is due to the social acceptance of the use of animals to guarantee the quality, safety and efficacy of medicines; on the other hand, this procedure is not equally understood in the dermocosmetic market.
These numbers have experienced a decrease in Spain, thanks to the fact that since 2013 European legislation prohibits experimentation on animals to obtain cosmetic or dermo-cosmetic products – not for pharmaceutical products. However, there are many companies that decide to test in countries outside the EU in order to evade the legislation. That is, the problem is moved to another location, with China being the favorite destination to carry out these experiments. Some 375,000 rabbits, guinea pigs, rats and other animals are used each year in China to check the safety of cosmetics, according to the Human Society International.
That is why many propose a change in the method of action by the regulatory bodies, betting on globalized legislation, which allows to unify criteria and thus be able to eradicate the problems that surround experimentation with animals and that causes a distrustful attitude by consumers. Meanwhile, for the pharmaceutical industry it is committed to a change redirecting these laws towards reducing the number of animals that are used in the case of the pharmaceutical industry, replacing them with other systems and, above all, avoiding vivisection.
It is precisely the “big pharma” that are making the greatest efforts to seek alternatives to these ethical disputes surrounding the issue in question.
Roche Pharmaceuticals, one of the top five pharmaceutical companies in the world, is a clear example of the search for these alternatives. The company adopted a technology based on the recreation of micro-organs from cell cultures three years ago and is already using it to test the safety of new compounds. As this and other tools improve, more companies have embraced them, confident that they are more reproducible and predictable than animal testing.
In turn, the company AstraZeneca just presented one of these advances. It is a mechanical model that mimics the conditions of the human stomach and intestine. Thanks to him, the use of dogs in his laboratories has drastically decreased.
Although this proactivity on the part of some researchers and companies does not mark the end of animal models in drug R&D, they show that An investment in the development of alternative techniques can be of great benefit to the industry and to the well-being of people and animals.
And thus, to be able to transform that vision of a safe industry for all, in a reality.