Dame Joanna Lumley is calling on ministers to launch a parliamentary inquiry into medical research methods in the UK, warning that animal tests are “failing patients”.
The actor, often dubbed a national treasure, is set to tell MPs that investment in “human-relevant” techniques would support economic growth and help the UK become a “science superpower”.
In an address to MPs in the House of Commons on Monday, Dame Joanna will also urge the government to appoint a minister to lead a transition to medical experiments without animals.
By law, all new drugs must be tested on a mouse or rat as well as a larger non-rodent mammal, usually a dog, pig or monkey, before they are given to people – but animals may not be used if there is an alternative.
Around 2.88 million experiments were carried out in 2020 in Britain on living animals, including breeding genetically modified creatures, latest Home Office statistics show. Cats, dogs, horses and primates were used in one per cent of those.
The most common tests were for the immune system, the nervous system and cancer. Some 4 per cent of experiments were classed as severe.
Demonstrations outside a Cambridgeshire centre that breeds beagle puppies for experiments have been continuing daily since last summer.
Advocates of animal testing for medical and veterinary research say it has led to life-changing discoveries, from new medicines and vaccines, including the Covid jab, to transplants, anaesthetics and blood transfusions.
But Dame Joanna is set to tell a cross-party gathering of MPs that government policy on animal-based medical research is “failing patients”, with 92 per cent of new medicines tested on animals never reaching the market to benefit humans.
She will tell policymakers: “Using animals in medical research is not only unethical, costly and unjustifiable, but it is being increasingly accepted among the scientific community that this practice fails patients.
“New medicines which appear safe and effective in tests on animals often fail to be approved for market because they pose significant safety and efficacy concerns during human trials.”
The award-winning actor and former Bond girl will present to parliament a report by Animal Free Research UK called Eight Steps to Accelerate Human Relevant Innovation which asks ministers, among other things, to promise laws to ultimately replace animal experiments with “human-relevant” methods and produce an action plan for encouraging widespread adoption of non-animal research.
Government sources say banning animal research or phasing it out could lead to an increase in animal experiments abroad, where standards are lower.
However, a report last year by the Centre for Economics and Business Research for Animal Free Research UK forecast that ramping up cutting-edge non-animal research would contribute £2.5bn to the UK’s GDP in 2026.
The National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) is funding work to replace dogs with computers in experiments, among other projects.
The Understanding Animal Research organisation said the 92 per cent failure rate of drugs included experiments without animals.