Why Create Drugs Like Viagra?

There’s a common argument offered by both animal rights activists and other critics of the pharmaceutical industry which goes something like this: companies spend too much money (and kill too many animals) creating drugs like Viagra. Back in 1999, for example, animal rights activists made a big deal out of the fact that dogs had been used in Viagra research. As the BBC reported,

But the RSPCA said it planned to look into the experiment to determine whether they had inflicted unnecessary pain, while the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection promised to lobby the Home Office to find out why it permitted the tests.

Sarah Kite, of the BUAV, said: “We are appalled that experiments of this nature have been carried out.

“These beagles have been mutilated in grotesque experiments for a drug which has no life-saving use.”

Kite should have known better than to make such a ridiculous claim. Drug compounds developed to treat one disorder routinely turn out, after further research and often through post-approval clinical experience, to have uses well beyond the purpose they were originally marketed for. And that appears to be happening with Viagra as well.

Doctors at the Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital are, in fact, using Viagra to save the lives of newborns who suffer from pulmonary hypertension. Pulmonary hypertension can cause heart failure and death. It can be treated with nitric oxide, but as Vanderbilt Dr. Don Moore, MD, notes, only for short periods of time effectively as a stop gap measure. Moreover nitric oxide treatment is expensive.

Viagra is already being tested in adults to see if it can be used as a treatment for pulmonary hypertension, and doctors at Vanderbilt have begun using it in infants who have life threatening hypertension. The number of infants who have been treated at Vanderbilt and elsewhere is still small, and there are risks with using Viagra in infants, but so far it appears that Kite could not have been more wrong in claiming that Viagra has “no life-saving use.” (I.e., business as usual for BUAV).


Vanderbilt doctors use Viagra to treat infants with pulmonary hypertension. Press Release, Carole Bartoo, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, April 19, 2004.

Dogs mutilated in Viagra test. BBC, March 12, 1999.

Number of Scientific Procedures on Animals in the UK Increased Slightly in 2002

The UK Home Office recently released its annual Statistics on Animals in Scientific Procedures 2002 which showed a slight increase in the number of scientific procedures performed in 2002 as compared to 2001.

According to the report, there were a total of 2.73 million such scientific procedures performed on animals in the UK, representing a 4.2 percent increase over the 2.62 million procedures performed in 2001.

The slight increase brought attacks from animal rights groups. Dr. Penny Hawkins, who heads up the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ efforts related to research animals told the Press Association,

We hear an awful lot from scientists and the Government about everything they are doing to replace animals with alternatives. These figures reveal that they are failing.

Similarly, Wendy Higgins of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection told the Press Association,

This shocking rise, and the alarming increase in the use of genetically modified animals, is a shameful reflection of this Government’s utter failure to tackle the controversial issue of animal experiments. Nearly three million animals still suffer painful and lethal experiments in UK labs and the UK public are legally denied access to detailed information about what goes on. The Government is stuck in a policy vacuum on vivisection, meanwhile the lab animal death toll continues to go up and up.

Higgins and Hawkins are both lying about the alternatives and the trends in the UK regarding animals procedures.

First, this was hardly a shocking rise. In fact, the total number of animal procedures performed in 2002 was barely above the 2000 level. The total number of procedures declined by 3.5 percent from 2000 to 2001, so the increase of 4.1 percent from 2001 to 2002 simply returned the number of procedures back to the 2000 level (full statistics on all species for 2000-2003 are available here.)

Moreover, this represents a dramatic decline in the total number of scientific procedures on animals over the last 5 years. In 1998, there were a total of 3.4 million such procedures conducted on animals. So researchers in the UK have reduced the total number of procedures by more than 20 percent in just 5 years.

It’s simply absurd that Higgins and Hawkins would turn around and accuse research of not being serious about using alternatives.

Second, Higgins is simply lying when she says that all 2.73 million procedures performed in 2002 involved “painful and lethal” research. Consider the 710,000 procedures on genetically modified animals that Higgins is so horrified about. What she conveniently leaves out is that more than 550,000 of those procedures involved breeding. Now maybe things are different from Higgins perspective, but breeding animals typically is neither painful nor lethal.

In fact, almost 30 percent of the 2.73 million “painful and lethal” procedures preformed in 2002 involved breeding.


Scientific tests on animals increase. Western Mail and Echo Ltd., July 19, 2003.

Number of animal experiments rises. Sam Sheringham, Press Association, July 18, 2003.

Michelle Thew Named Animal Protection Institute President

Michelle Thew, currently chief executive officer of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, was recently named to succeed Alan Berger as CEO of the Animal Protection Institute.

BUAV focuses mainly on animal experimentation and Thew was one of four finalists in the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals’ search for a new chief executive. That job was ultimately given to anti-hunting activist Jackie Ballard.

In an API press release announcing Thew’s selection, she said,

API is an organization whose work I have long respected, and I am thrilled to be joining as its new CEO. Creating real change for animals takes determination, skill and creativity. API will get the job done. High profile media work, professional lobbying, legal skills and public campaigning are key to success. API will use all of these tools in coming years to put the issue of animal rights on the map in the United States. I look forward to working with the excellent team at API to end animal abuse worldwide.

API has not been especially focused on animal experimentation, but appears poised to take a more active role in that area of the animal rights movement. Along with hiring Thew, API announced a new partnership with BUAV,

API and BUAV also announced that the two organizations are forming a new strategic partnership, a transatlantic relationship that will benefit animals worldwide. In addition to becoming API’s chief executive officer, Thew will also serve as a consultant to BUAV, with special responsibility for global strategic issues in animal experiments. “The challenges that animal advocates face are global and their response must be global too,” said Thew.

So is this really API making Thew its CEO or simply the UK organization opening up BUAV USA?


New CEO to lead Animal Protection Institute. Press Release, Animal Protection Institute, June 13, 2003.

Home Office Investigation Clears Cambridge University Laboratory of Wrongdoing

Last May, the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection released video footage that it claimed showed monkeys at a Cambridge University laboratory being abused by their caretakers who were not reporting the level of suffering actually experienced by the animals (see this story for background).

In February the UK Home Office released the results of its investigation which concluded that the primate laboratory was well managed and that there was no evidence of abuse nor any evidence that there was any sort of withholding of information by animal researchers or caretakers at Cambridge University.

According to the Home Office report (full report – PDF), the Cambridge University researchers did not cause any more suffering than was necessary to carry out their research on brain disorders such as amnesia, dementia, and Parkinson’s disease and that, moreover, the primate facility,

. . . meets, and in some respects exceeds the standards of housing and care set out in the relevant Home Office Codes of Practice, and that some examples of best practice are to be found there.

BUAV, meanwhile, condemned the report saying it was,

. . . utterly appalled and deeply angered by the complete dismissal of overwhelming evidence of animal suffering.

But the report noted numerous problems with BUAV’s videotapes,

The campaign videotape includes covert recordings of animals in the immediate and early-postoperative periods. The condition of the animals shown reflects a combination of the early effects of the surgery and anaesthesia, and the post-operative medication given. The surgical incisions shown reflect the extent of the surgical exposure required rather than the magnitude of the surgical procedure performed.

In some cases, BUAV outright distorted issues that laboratory personnel themselves had raised. Again, from the Home Office report on BUAV’s claim about overcrowding at the primate facility,

The BUAV report makes mention of stocking levels reaching “critical points” during 1999/2000 and needing to be resolved with “with [sic] some urgency.” Contemporary records confirm that the issue under consideration was how to manage breeding performance and available animal accommodation in order to remain in compliance rather than to deal with stocking levels that had resulted in non-compliance [as the BUAV report clearly implied].

Similarly, BUAV’s claims about other aspects of animal welfare don’t hold up under scrutiny. In its report, for example, BUAV claimed that “Common problems with primate groups include fighting injuries and bacterial and viral infections . . .” But according to the Home Office report,

The BUAV report suggests that animal health and welfare problems are commonplace in the animals bred, kept and used in the Cambridge facility. The specifics discussed include fight-related injuries, diarrhea, respiratory tract infections and dental abscesses.

. . . bearing in mind that the unit houses over 400 animals at anyone time, recorded injuries from fighting are uncommon. In 1999 there were two unequivocal confirmed cases of fight-related injuries, and a further five minor injuries where fighting may have played a part. In 2000 there were no confirmed cases, and only four minor other injuries where fighting may have played a part. In 2001 there were two confirmed fight-related injuries, and three other minor injuries where fighting may have played a part.

Diarrhea occurs occasionally. It is generally mild and sporadic, and seldom lasts for more than one day. Cultures are taken from all animals believed to have an infective disorder. Only one Salmonella infection has been recorded since May 1999.

Infective respiratory problems, that is significant upper respiratory tract infections and/or pneumonia, are uncommon and sporadic. Transmission is generally restricted to cage mates. These conditions are not endemic within the colony. Contemporary documents record five cases in 2000, and nine cases in 2001, again at times when the facility housed over 400 animals. The BUAV report describes an outbreak of pneumonia caused by Bordtella bronchispetica affecting five members of one family group in 2001. Rather than illustrating a chronic, widespread or endemic problem, the outbreak discussed in the BUAV report accounted for more than half of the respiratory tract infections recorded in 2001.

More proof that you simply can’t take animal rights-produced videos and still photos at face value. BUAV, for its part, seemed more interested in creating video footage for its own purposes than actually helping to stop alleged animal abuse at the Cambridge University laboratory. For example, consider this odd statement from the Home Office report,

Cambridge University co-operated fully with this review.

The Home Office invite BUAV to provide the evidence on which their concerns are based, and to allow their investigator to be interviewed for the purposes of this review. BUAV declined.

How predictable.


A Review By The Chief Inspector Of The Animals (Scientific Procedures) Inspectorate Of Aspects Of Non-Human Primate Research At Cambridge University.

Monkey research cleared by report. Roger Highfield, The Daily Telegraph, February 12, 2003.

Aspects of Non-human Primate Research at Cambridge University: A Review by the Chief Inspector. UK Home Office, October 2002.

Europe Approves Eventual, Someday, Maybe "Ban" on Animal Testing

The European parliament this month approved its so-called ban on animal testing for cosmetics products. What the “ban” really means since the full force of its provisions won’t go into effect for at least 10 years, remains to be seen.

Assuming the law is approved by individual states, by 2009 companies must convert 11 of 14 animal tests to animal alternatives (even though many of those alternatives are only non-animal in the sense that they don’t use whole animals).

Companies are given until 2013 to move to animal alternatives for the remaining three tests.

British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection’s spokesperson Wendy Higgins said of the vote,

This is potentially a historic moment, since to eradicate cosmetic animal testing from the European Union is quite an achievement. However, it is shameful that it has taken so long to do this. We are also disappointed we have a staggered sales ban.

Color me skeptical.

First, plenty of cosmetics and other finished products tested on animals will continue to be sold in Europe indefinitely since all existing compounds — most, if not all, of which have been extensively tested on animals — are grandfathered in.

Second, the 6 and 10 year respective deadlines is like balanced budget legislation in the United States — it simply delays the actual decision making to a point where politicians currently in office will likely not have to deal with it. As those deadlines approach, watch for high powered lobbying to extend the deadlines (and the cosmetics industry is already laying the groundwork for that).

Third, the ban faces a likely strong objection in the World Trade Organization that it represents an unfair barrier to trade.

This “ban” seems more like a classic political maneuver common to democracies where legislation that appears to take a strong position but in actuality essentially commits a government to no immediate action is offered up to appease a perceived politically vocal group.

Tune in around 2008 or so to see if the Europeans stick to their guns on this total ban on animal testing for cosmetics.


Law makeover closes animal test loopholes. Alastair Dalton and Nicola Smith, The Scotsman, January 13, 2003.

Cambridge Research Facility Hearings

Hearings were held this week on Cambridge University’s proposal to build a primate research facility in Girton, just outside Cambridge.

The proposal has been rejected twice before on grounds that the research center is certain to become a focal point for animal rights protests which could disrupt traffic and create other public safety hazards. Earlier this year a planning commission rejected the plans 17-4 after hearing from police about disruptions that activists might create.

That decision led to criticism from Prime Minister Tony Blair who said that the problems obtaining approval for the site threatened Great Britain’s standing as a leader in medical research.

The laboratory would hose macaque and marmoset monkeys used as part of brain-related research. Science minister Lord Sainsbury told BBC2’s Newsnight that the research center was of national importance,

I was asked by the local planning authority what my view was and whether it was a project of national importance. Clearly it is a project of national importance. It is doing major research in a key area of science. It is now up to the planning authority to give their view as to whether this is right from a planning point of view.

Cambridge University has defended the research center as absolutely vital,

Advances in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease, asthma and strokes have all been made as a result of research with primates. Ongoing research with primates offer the hope of effective treatments for conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and sight disorders, as well as the development of vaccines for malaria and Aids.

We understand that many people find the use of monkeys in medical research distressing. Research methods are continually evolving and while scientists and medical researchers aim to reduce work involving animals to a minimum, some of this work must continue if we are to make essential life-saving advances in medicine.

Animal rights activists, predictably, attacked such research as both cruel and unnecessary. Dan Lyons of Uncaged Campaigns told The Guardian (UK),

This research will cause suffering. The government tries to promote this centre as a scientific one, but it’s more to do with trying to create an impression of a business-friendly environment to attract more biotech and pharmaceutical companies. It’s a global business concern that’s driving this, rather than pure science.

Our concern is that the government is trying to present a commercial interest as a national interest. What’s ethically right is at odds with that commercial interest.

Regardless, the center is likely a done deal given Blair’s support and the fact that this time the decision rests solely with Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott.

Wendy Higgins of the British Union for the Abolition of Animal Vivisection told The BBC,

It is a political decision that will be made, not one about planning. The prime minister has already made his position absolutely clear and now that John Prescott has decided to recover the final decision for himself, it is highly unlikely that he will go against Mr. Blair.

But, of course, the decision not to build it before was predicated largely on unruly animal rights activists. Surely, those who engage in hooliganism should not be rewarded for their behavior by allowing its possibility to prevent the construction of a research facility. Lets just hope the British government is committed to dealing with animal rights extremism that will inevitably be directed at the facility once it is built.


Cambridge argues for monkey research. The BBC, November 25, 2002.

Minister backs animal testing lab plans. Polly Curtis, The Guardian (UK), November 26, 2002.