Press release

Biomedical research funders respond to the Review of Research Using Non-Human Primates

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), Medical Research Council (MRC) and Wellcome Trust have responded to the independent Review of Research Using Non-Human Primates led by Professor Sir Patrick Bateson FRS.

The three major funding organisations commissioned and funded the report following the recommendation of a 2006 Working Group chaired by Sir David Weatherall that they undertake a systematic review of the outcome of all their research using non-human primates supported over the last decade.

The review aimed to: assess the quality, outputs and impacts of research in this area on advancing knowledge in human and animal health; identify the strengths and weaknesses of the funded science in this field; inform their future science and funding strategies; and feed the outcomes of the review into any Government strategy on NHP use.

"Sir Patrick's report rightly recognises the high quality of biomedical research involving non-human primates in the UK," says Sir Mark Walport, Director of the Wellcome Trust. "We agree that non-human primates should only be used when no other potential animal models are viable and when human subjects cannot be used as alternatives. The number of experiments carried out in the UK is relatively small, but such research is vital in helping us to better understand human physiology and disease.

"Together with other funders of research which involves the use of non-human primates we will give careful consideration to the recommendations made by Sir Patrick Bateson and his review team."

Non-human primates have been used in research in areas from assessing potential vaccines for HIV to studies on animal behaviour.

The Bateson review recognises that the past decade has seen improvements in the standard of animal welfare and husbandry and that new techniques have obviated the need for use of non-human primates in certain experiments.

"As funders we are all committed to the replacement, reduction and refinement of the use of animals in research," says Professor Douglas Kell, Chief Executive of BBSRC. "We always work according to these principles and there has been much progress over the past decade. Where it is still not yet possible to replace non-human primates in research with other approaches, we are dedicated to ensuring that all the research we fund is conducted to the highest standards of welfare and good husbandry."

The review also highlights the importance of deriving maximum benefit from research carried out using non-human primates through improved knowledge transfer and better access to data.

"We have a track record of ensuring the results of our research are translated into patient and public benefit," says Sir John Savill, Chief Executive of the MRC. "We realise this responsibility is particularly important when research uses animals. Benefits have emerged from the majority of the studies analysed in the Bateson review and we would anticipate more in the fullness of time. This reflects the lengthy nature of scientific enquiry, which requires time between the completion of research and tangible rewards to become obvious."

The funders are committed to ensuring that data from the research that they fund is made as widely and openly accessible as possible. However, by necessity data from research involving non-human primates may be subject to certain restrictions due to the sensitive nature of the research. The funders will explore mechanisms for improved sharing of such data and for ensuring the publication of research results, whether positive or negative.