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Animal research 'red tape' slowing R&D progress in UK

Increasing levels of bureaucracy regarding animal experiments is slowing progress in medical research in the UK

Increasing levels of bureaucracy regarding animal experiments is slowing progress in medical research and preventing the introduction of new techniques to improve the welfare of animals, research scientists have claimed.

The UK campaigning newspaper, The Guardian, reported that the scientists have called on the government to streamline the process or risk damaging the country's international standing in biomedical research.

At a briefing meeting held on 11 December, Dominic Wells of Imperial College London said the UK was the most regulated country in the world on the use of experimental animals, while the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industries (ABPI) estimated that British academics spend at least GBP 50m a year on administrating the paperwork required for research licences.

In July 2007, Home Office data showed the number of procedures performed on animals rose four per cent to a 15-year high of more than three million in 2006, which makes the UK the most active EU member state involved in animal research.

The Animals in Scientific Procedures Act of 1986 requires that the Home Office govern any animal research. This means that the site where experimentation will be performed must be pre-approved and inspected. Also, the researchers involved all need their own permits. The project then requires an additional licence, which lists the numbers of animals to be used, why they are being used and details of the experiments, a highly detailed document that can run into hundreds of pages.

Since 1999, each institution has had to show that all animal work goes through an internal ethical review process, which includes lay people, scientists and animal care and welfare officers. Also predicting how an experiment would need to be carried out in five years' time, a requirement under UK law is often difficult in the light of rapid advances in technology. Even minor changes to an experiment, which may not affect an animal's wellbeing, often take months to enact because every change has to be approved individually.

In an interview with The Guardian, Clive Page, of King's College London, said: "If tomorrow my colleagues in the US discovered a new way to anaesthetise rabbits that we've not had in this country before, to introduce that, I'd have to go back to actually justify it and go through the ethical review process for an amendment, go back to the Home Office. That all takes time."

He said the excessive red tape would have negative effects on the UK's competitiveness and would make recruiting top international scientists difficult.

In 2005, the then chancellor, Gordon Brown, commissioned a review of government red tape. The resulting report recommended that in the case of animals in research, the regulatory burden should be reduced by at least 25 per cent by 2010. The Home Office will publish details early next year of how it plans to make the reduction.

13th December 2007

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