Even a Broken Mouse Model is Right Twice a Day

Nathan Herschler, November 6, 2018

Cosmos magazine recently published a searing indictment of mouse tests as a predictor of what will happen with drugs on humans. You’ve heard from NEAVS before that 95% of drugs tested in patients fail to reach the market, despite “promising” results in animal tests. This startling failure rate speaks to the waste in animal lives and research dollars going into animal tests.

As Thomas Hartung, a toxicologist at Johns Hopkins University, notes, research fails because “we are not 70 kilogram rats.” This seems like so much common sense, but tens of millions  of mice and rats are still killed every year in the development of new pharmaceutical drugs for people and animals.

The pharmaceutical industry itself wants to move beyond the animal model, recognizing the substantial financial cost associated with keeping, torturing, and killing these animals in and after using them for experiments. Hartung noted that in Europe, pharma had reduced its share of contribution to animal testing from 31% in 2005 to 19% in 2011.

Defenders of animal tests point to examples of the 5% of drugs that end up having beneficial human outcomes after also showing promising results in animal tests. But even a broken animal model, like a broken clock, is bound to be seem to be right every once in awhile. We demand more — more success and more accountability for the innumerable animal lives lost in specious science.

Funders of science like the National Institutes of Health (NIH) must start to adequately fund human-relevant research and stop focusing on the antiquated model that prioritizes publications above all else. The purpose of research isn’t to provide comfortable lives to tenured researchers, but to address human and animal disease. Why are we funding animal torture when there is no carefully laid out strategy for actually curing disease?

Here are some practical steps we can undertake right now to move the needle away from the animal model:

  • Congress should increase funding for human-relevant and compassionate alternatives to animal tests at the same time they reduce funding for animal experiments and;

  • Government agencies like NIH must require a careful review of existing research and that proposed research methodology and objectives are clearly stated before funding occurs.

Here’s where you can help. Please take a moment to urge NIH to request additional funding for the development and validation of alternatives to animal tests.