Perhaps the most perverse aspect of the animal testing debate is the fact that not only does animal testing not advance medicine—it actually harms and, in many cases, kills the humans it’s said to benefit.
Today we’ll address yet another absurdity of animal testing: it not only does not help, but actually harms, and—in many cases—kills humans. Maybe you could give a crap about animals, and don’t really care as long as humanity is benefiting. Well, animal testing is still something that you should be against.
Throughout this post I’ve pulling a good bit of information from articles posted on or alluded to by safermedicines.org. As I mentions in my second post in the animal testing series, that this organization has nothing to do with animal rights and everything to do with human safety.
Adverse drug reactions are a major cause of death, killing 197,000 people annually in the European Union (according to geneticists Kathy Archibald and pharmacologist Robert Coleman), and 106,000 people annually in the United States (according to a study in leading US medical journal Journal of the American Medical Association.) It’s worth noting that these numbers are for medications that are correctly prescribed and correctly taken by patients.
In the case of the United States, that’s about 290 deaths every day—or one death every five minutes. The same study also consider patients who were so badly injured that medication that they needed hospital treatment. These were calculated to be 2,250,000 hospital admissions each year. That’s over 6,000 every day—or one every fourteen seconds.
Currently 92 percent of new medications fail at clinical trials even though they have successfully passed animal tests. In 2008, a study in Theriogenology (vol. 69 p.2), concluded,
On average the extrapolated results from studies using tens of millions of animals failed to accurately predict human responses.
In another study in Regulatory Toxicology And Pharmacology (vol. 64 p.345), shows that animal tests missed 81 percent of the serious side-effects of 43 drugs that went on to harm patients.
Let’s look at two specific examples of how animal testing has harmed humans: the drugs tgn 1412 and Vioxx.
TGN 1412 is often referred to as the “Northwick park elephant man disaster.” The drug was developed by Tegenero Immuno therapeutics. In its first clinical trials, it caused catastrophic systematic organ failure despite being administered at a supposed subclinical dose, some five hundred times lower than the dose found safe in animals. Six volunteers were hospitalized on 13th of march in 2006. And some, like participant Ryan Wilson had had toes and fingers amputated. As standard practice in the drug industry TGN 1412 had been through a rigorous animal trials and had passed. But no worries! Tegenero Immuno therapeutics has apologized to the families involved and that makes it okay, right?
Now on to Vioxx. Vioxx is an arthritis medication made by the pharmaceutical giant Merck. It was withdrawn from the market after causing the largest medical disaster in history, after animal trials had indicated that it was “entirely safe.”
According to doctor David Graham, the associate director of the FDA’s office of drug safety, it was estimated that 88,000-139,000 Americans had heart attacks and strokes as a result in taking Vioxx. As many as 60,000 of them fatal The Physicians Committee For Responsible Medicine explained:
9 of 11 studies on mice and rats had shown Vioxx and other COX-2 inhibitors to be safe for animal hearts and blood vessels. In fact six different animal studies—in four different species—showed Vioxx was actually protective against heart attacks and vascular disease.
One researcher in a paper published in the 2002 edition of Current Opinions In Lipidology went so far as to suggest that Vioxx be considered a treatment for human cardiovascular disease based on these animal tests. In another study from the American Heart Journal, a group of researchers who believed that Vioxx could protect the heart stated that “these findings have raised the possibility that COX-2 inhibitors could actually decrease the incidence of acute thrombotic events.”
In layman’s terms, animal testing showed that Vioxx was protective for hearts, yet when it was used on humans, it caused thousands of fatal heart attacks and strokes. Merck’s falsely optimistic animal tests led the company to disregard the deadly problems emerging in humans.
It’s not always bad drugs getting through that is the issue—here’s also the possibility of helpful drugs not making it market because they have ill effect in animal trials, while they’d be perfectly suited for humans. Take for example penicillin and aspirin. Animal testing showed that penicillin was ineffective in treating infected rabbits and it was toxic to guinea pigs. Yet later if proved safe and and effective for treating bacterial infections most humans. And aspirin causes birth defects in mice and rats but is harmless to human embryo. Had we relied on animal testing as it’s conducted today, we would have rejected aspirin.
The craziest part of this whole issue is that there are safer, more effective alternatives that don’t leave animals and humans paying the price for bad science. Yet governments continue to mandate animal tests. So there you have it: yet another layer to the absurdity of animal testing.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this matter. Let me know in the comments!
— Emily Moran Barwick