Vioxx Withdrawal Points To Need For Better Research

By Kathy Guillermo

On September 30, the arthritis drug Vioxx, taken by an estimated 2 million people around the world, was withdrawn from the market. Merck, the huge pharmaceutical company that developed Vioxx, had tested it extensively on animals before making it available for prescription. But animal tests did not reveal that people who take Vioxx have double the risk of a heart attack. This was discovered only after the drug had been taken by as many as 84 million people.

Vioxx is just the latest in a long list of pharmaceutical drugs that have been withdrawn because their adverse effects on people were not predicted by animal studies. Phenactin, E-Ferol, Oraflex, Zomax, Suprol, Selacryn and many other drugs had to be taken off the market for killing or harming thousands of people. Using animals for drug development and testing is not only ineffective, it's downright dangerous. Adverse reaction to prescription drugs kills more than 100,000 people in the U.S. every year.

This is why many scientists are turning away from animal experiments and looking for better methods. They realize that all the genetic manipulations and wishful thinking in the world cannot turn a mouse into a tiny human being. An article published earlier this year in the British Medical Journal notes the appalling lack of evidence that exists to support the belief that animal studies benefit humans in any way. A survey commissioned by Europeans for Medical Advancement found that more than 80 percent of physicians in general practice in Europe believe that animal tests are worthless and even dangerous to their patients.

Every year, a new crop of cheaper, faster, more accurate non-animal tests are developed and put on the market. The MatTek Corporation in Massachusetts makes 3-D tissue models, using human cells, of body parts. For many pharmaceutical companies, these "living" tissues yield more accurate results than the old, crude tests on animals. Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble, Unilever and DuPont are a few of the companies that use MatTek's tests, and that are investing millions of dollars in non-animal research.

Physiome Sciences in England uses no animals at all in the development of new drugs. This successful company's staff is composed of scientists who had worked for traditional pharmaceutical companies. They became frustrated with what animal tests couldn't tell us about people and developed amazing three-dimensional computer models that can predict a chemical's effect on all the body's organs.

Here, however, millions of animals continue to lead lives of quiet misery in wretched cages, even though science shows us again and again that we must look for better ways to help people. It isn't just bad science. It is cruel and unethical to treat animals as though they are test tubes with tails instead of living, feeling beings just like us. And how can we allow the conditions that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has exposed in undercover investigations? Filthy, overcrowded cages, rotting food, festering wounds, animals driven mad by the loneliness and the nothingness that fills every one of their days and nights.

The justifications put forth by animal experimenters are well known: We must use animals to cure human ills. It's time now for a new battle cry: We must not settle for the cruel, second best research, but move forward and develop more effective, more humane methods. What we did in the past doesn't have to be the way we always do it.

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