I MUST respond to the letter from C Magee who, I understand, is the media and public affairs manager at Understanding Animal Research, which is funded by the contract research and pharmaceutical industry.

C Magee asserts, “Since 1986, it has been illegal to use an animal for research if there is an alternative.”

C Magee will be aware that this is an overarching principle of the legislation and that the actual text includes the proviso that the alternative to animal use must be “reasonably practicable”.

In practice this has proved to open up a wide range of considerations such as whether a licensee has researched or has knowledge of alternatives, has a desire to change methodology, funding and/or the availability of animals or alternative methods.

It is disingenuous to claim that all medical progress is reliant upon animal research, especially as modern, more sophisticated techniques are fast replacing animals because they produce superior results.

Historically, the fundamental problem of animal experiments is species differences – this refers to the reality that each species responds differently to substances and can result in injuries to people.

For example the experimental drug TGN1412 was given to human volunteers who suffered horrific and life-threatening side effects, yet it had been given to primates in doses 500 times that given to the volunteers, without adverse effects.

Therefore the results of animal tests can be misleading and sometimes dangerous when scientists try to use the results from animal tests to predict likely effects in humans.

Using a cancer-based example: the anti-oestrogen breast cancer drug tamoxifen was designed as an oral contraceptive; it is in rats, but in women it has the opposite effect.

It is now used very successfully in the treatment of breast cancer, despite having caused cancer in rats in some studies.

Medical science has certainly progressed without animal experiments, and sometimes in spite of misleading animal research

JAN CREAMER, chief executive, National Anti-Vivisection Society.