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The Physicians Committee

Put Animal Testing to Sleep

By John J. Pippin, M.D., F.A.C.C.

This opinion piece was published on May 28, 2008, on Debate Room.

What if you tried to start your car and realized you had the wrong key? Would you keep trying to make it fit the ignition, or would you find the right key?

It seems a silly question, but this is the situation for researchers who use animals to study human diseases and develop drugs. Scientific knowledge gained in recent decades and the dismal performance of the animal research paradigm prove that we must use more accurate, human-based research methods if we wish to succeed against human diseases and produce safe and effective medicines.

The Food & Drug Administration tells us that 92% of drugs tested safe and effective in animals fail in human trials, even as the cost of bringing a drug to market has reached $1 billion and validated nonanimal alternatives are ignored. The blockbuster arthritis drug Vioxx from Merck killed more Americans than died in the Vietnam War, yet it was deemed safe in eight studies using six animal species. Many drugs have had severe and even lethal effects in people after demonstrating safety in animal tests. Conversely, safe and effective drugs such as aspirin, acetaminophen, and penicillin cause severe toxicities in animal tests.

A quarter-century of primate research has failed to produce an HIV/AIDS vaccine—more than 80 vaccines that worked in monkeys have failed in humans. About 150 stroke treatments, two dozen diabetes cures, two dozen paralysis treatments, and many therapeutic cancer vaccines successful in animal experiments have all failed in people. Thousands of treatments for many debilitating diseases have worked in animal experiments, yet there are no cures for these diseases after decades of trying. And what potential cures have been discarded because they failed animal testing?

These consistent and unrelenting failures should condemn the animal research paradigm to the historical dustbin. It’s time to find the right key.

John J. Pippin, a physician, is board-certified in internal medicine, cardiovascular diseases and nuclear cardiology. He has served on several medical school faculties, including Harvard Medical School and the Medical College of Virginia. Pippin is senior medical and research adviser for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.


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