Medicines and vaccines

The discovery and development of new medicines, vaccines and medical devices for people and animals is a long and complex process with a number of stages, many of which involve animal experiments. National and international regulations currently require that new medicines are tested on animals before being licensed for use. 

Around 5 million animals are used across the EU for this purpose each year, including mice, rats, fish, chickens, rabbits, dogs and primates. Here's more on what this involves and why we're worried about it.

What animals experience during medical trials

The degree of suffering an animal experiences, which may include both physical pain and psychological distress, depends on the nature of the experiment. Generally, animals are 'given' a disease or condition and then experiments are done to investigate: 

  • How the illness develops 
  • What effects it has 
  • How it could be prevented or its progress halted 
  • Whether proposed treatments actually work  

As well as pain and distress from the scientific procedures used, animals will suffer from the symptoms of the disease or condition that's being studied. Healthy animals are also then used to assess the safety of any treatments developed before trials are done on humans or on farm or pet animals. Animals are usually killed at the end of the tests.  

Our view on animal use in medical studies

We believe that the need to experiment on animals, and the justification for the suffering caused, should be more critically questioned. Questions must be asked including:

  • How important is the problem being studied? - animals should not suffer so that society can have a 'pill for every ill', when the condition is trivial, self-inflicted or avoidable with a little effort 
  • How likely is it that the research will succeed? - there's significant debate about the usefulness of information obtained from animal experiments, particularly for studying human diseases

What we're doing

We work with government officials, scientists in universities and the pharmaceutical industry and other animal welfare organisations to promote thorough ethical review of research projects, along with the maximum possible implementation of the 3Rs to reduce animal use and suffering in medical and veterinary research. 

To find out more, read our blog post on wild animals used in vaccine tests and what's being done to help.

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