European Patent Office Upholds Mouse Patent

In July the European Patent Office upheld Harvard University’s patent on a genetically altered mouse. The EPO did modify the patent so that it applied only to “transgenic mice” rather than the original language of the patent which covered “transgenic rodents.”

In a press release announcing the decision, the EPO said,

As a result of an appeal decision, European patent EP 0 169 672, better-known as the “Oncomouse” patent, has been further restricted.

In 1985 the President and Fellows of Harvard College, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, applied for a European patent entitled “Method for producing transgenic animals”. The patent was granted in May 1992 in respect of “non-human mammalian animals” for eleven member states of the European Patent Organisation.

Seventeen oppositions against the patent, filed in 1992 and 1993, led to the decision in November 2001 to maintain the patent in respect of “transgenic rodents”. Several appeals against that decision lodged in March 2003 were heard by the Technical Board of Appeal which decided to restrict the patent further to “transgenic mice”.

Greenpeace and a number of other organizations had filed the challenges, seeking to have the EPO overturn the validity of patenting animals altogether. Jan Creamer of Great Britain’s National Anti-Vivisection Society said of the ruling,

. . .patenting life should be wrong. You’re not producing a product that will make a difference.

Harvard University’s Philip Leder, who was one of the co-creator’s of the Oncomouse, disagreed, telling The Scientist,

This is the organism that has the greatest utility. I’m pleased to have the matter resolved.

Dupont, which holds the licensing rights to the mouse, has issued 170 licenses for academic research on the mouse. It charges licensing fees for commercial uses of the patented mouse.


EPO restricts OncoMouse patent. Paula Park, The Scientist, July 26, 2004.

Technical Board of Appeal restricts “Oncomouse” patent. Press Release, European Patent Office, July 6, 2004.

Europe upholds Harvard Mouse patent. Associated Press, July 7, 2004.

Great Britain to Keep Specific Details of Animal Research Anonymous

The British government in early July announced that it would continue to keep specific details about animal research in that country secret while expanding the amount of information about the extent and types of animal research conducted in that country.

Home Office minister Caroline Flint announced that after a review of Section 24 — a confidentiality clause included in 1986’s Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act — the government has decided to retain the confidentiality clause for now and review the issue again two years hence.

Flint told reporters,

Protecting scientists and their families from intimidation and harassment, and tackling animal rights extremism is a priority for the Government. Section 24 will be retained for the time being, ensuring that information that is open to abuse is not put directly into the public domain. Animal research is essential to protect human health and has contributed to almost all of the medical advances in the last century.

The National Anti-Vivisection Society characterized the decision as “a dismal bow to the power of a secretive industry,” and the group’s chief executive Jan Creamer told the Press Association,

This is a bittersweet victory for the NAVS, and for those who believe in the public’s right to know what goes on in our name.

The Government has finally agreed to greater openness, but the most meaningful information could still be withheld from the public.


Researchers who experiment on animals to remain anonymous. John-Paul Ford Rojas, Press Association news, July 1, 2004.

Scientific procedures at HLS to stay under wraps. Cambridge News, July 3, 2004.

Great Britain Announces Center to Explore Alternatives to Animals in Medical Research

In May, Lord Sainsbury announced that the British government would support the creation of a new national center designed to cut the number of animals used in medical research by pushing for ways to further implement the widely accepted view of replacing, refining and reducing such tests. Not surprisingly, the same animal rights groups complaining about the increase in animals used for medical research quickly attacked the plan as “a joke” and “a sham.”

The government’s plans are the result of a House of Lords report that urged the creation of just such a center for exploring non-animal research methods. An unnamed National Anti-Vivisection Society spokesperson complained to the Daily Telegraph that,

Now the government has hijacked the proposal, but made it a center which will explore both animal and non-animal research.

But Lord Smith of Clifton, who chaired the committee that produced the report, praised the government’s plans to create the new national center,

The government has accepted my committee’s recommendations to set up a center. i think the higher profile that the government is giving this question should reassure people that animals aren’t used willy nilly.

Which, of course, will never satisfy the animal rights activists who are against animal testing regardless of whether a given test is necessary or effective. As Geoffrey Thomas of the Dr. Hadwen Trust told The BBC,

I think it is very important that the emphasis is on replacement — and the three R’s is simply diverting attention and resources from that specific topic.

The National Anti-Vivisection Society’s Jan Creamer went even further, telling the Press Association that the center was “a joke.”

What the Government has announced today is a joke. This center is going to be governed by people who are committed to animal research. The Government had an opportunity to invest in cutting edge technologies and research. Instead they have gone for the same old people and the same old tired ideas.

Animal Aid’s Andrew Tyler dismissed the three R’s approach, telling the Press Association,

The only R that has any merit is replacement — given that experimenting on other species produces results that cannot be reliably applied to people.

Lord Sainsbury told the Press Association that while replacement is the ultimate goal, for the forseeable future animal research will be essential in animal research and both reduction and refinement are thus important goals. Sainsbury said only animal groups who accept the three R’s approach will be welcome on the new Center’s board,

It is not about having a debate between people from widely different positions. The extreme actions taken by some animal rights groups is a quite separate issue and we have made it clear as a Government that we do not tolerate that kind of behavior.


Minister backs center to cut tests on animals. David Derbyshire, Daily Telegraph (London), May 22, 2004.

Animal rights groups attack new research centre. Neville Dean, Press Association News, May 21, 2004.

Shake up of animal tests expected. The BBC, May 20, 2004.

ALF: New Oxford Animal Facility Likely to be Site of Violent Attacks

The Oxford Student quoted an unidentified Animal Liberation Front source as saying that in the wake of the failure of a new Cambridge-affiliated primate laboratory, that activists would likely turn to targeting a new animal facility that Oxford University is currently building.

The Oxford Student reported that the unnamed ALF source told it,

. . . new animal facilities proposed at Oxford would be seen as a legitimate target for ALF members. [Possible actions could] range from smashing windows with rocks to arson attacks against entire departments.

The Oxford Student also quoted National Anti-Vivisection Society campaigns director Tim Phillips as saying,

Oxford is practically the UK’s capital [sic] of animal suffering. We’ve placed people undercover in some of these laboratories and found appalling instances of animal suffering — animals being dropped on the floor, technicians laughing as they smash animals to death against benchtops, and gross overcrowding.

An Oxford spokesperson told the Oxford Student,

We have had protests in the past, and we’ve dealt with them. We are confident we can do the same again. We’re not extending our research — we are simply building a new facility for housing animals.


Capital of Suffering. Ella Davies, Oxford Student, February 12, 2004.

Tufts Kills Five Dogs in Bone Research Experiment Despite Animal Rights Objections

The New England Anti-Vivisection Society and other animal rights groups failed to stop Tufts University’s School of Veterinary Medicine from killing five dogs involved in research. Tufts also temporarily suspended an Adopt-A-Dog program which had been the source of information about the dog research and which Tufts apparently believed might pose a security risk by bringing opponents of its bone research into its facilities.

Tufts is currently doing research on different methods of fixing broken bones in dogs. One experiment involved breaking the bones of the back two legs of five dogs using a surgical procedure. One leg on each dog was set using a conventional fixator attached with external screws, while the other leg was set using a more flexible fixator. The animals were anesthetized during the surgical procedures, and given drugs for pain as their bone healed.

The final step in the procedure, however, required the dogs to be killed so the leg bones of the dogs could be removed and evaluated.

The New England Anti-Vivisection Society and about 30 Tufts students had been protesting the planned killing of the dogs for months. In a December 29 press release NEAVS president Theo Capaldo said,

In response to the students’ concerns, the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) asked them to find alternatives to the study when actually the IACUC should have demanded that the researchers do a better job of finding alternatives to this egregious study in the first place. The IACUC should never have approved a study that involved: such severe injury to healthy dogs; the need for days of heavy pain killers; and the killing of the dogs in the end. The research should never have met the approval of this committee. The students are absolutely right to call into question this unjustifiable research and its egregious end point.

. . .

If Tufts is unwilling to allow its own students to insist on the ethical imperative to find alternatives to such awful research, then they need to be challenged. After all, the students involved represent those interested in helping and healing animals and those interested in changing public policy about how animals are treated in our society. In prohibiting these students from doing this work at their own University, Tufts is not only being inhumane to the dogs but to the students as well. How can the University not allow them to do what they are there to learn to do: make the world a better place for animals? It’s a very disheartening contradiction.

In a prepared statement, Tufts spokeswoman Barbara Donato said,

Tufts School of Veterinary Medicine recognizes that the responsible conduct of biomedical research using animals is a highly complex public policy issue over which people of diverse backgrounds will disagree. We respect diversity of opinions on this matter and encourage our students, faculty and staff to develop and express informed views while also respecting the viewpoints of others.

Tufts also decided to temporarily suspended an Adopt-A-Teaching Dog program. Students apparently learned of the bone study through their involvement in that program. That program involves using students walking and playing with dogs used to teach non-invasive veterinary techniques.

Tufts apparently feared that giving students opposed to the bone research access to their research facilities was a potential security threat. According to Donato,

To the extent that we can permit students to access the facility without jeopardizing security, we hope to do so. . . . Any research institution, including Tufts, has an obligation to provide a secure facility for the housing of research animals and will do whatever is necessary to protect the security and welfare of the animals, as well as the integrity of the research.


Tufts kills five dogs in bone research project despite protests. Donna Boynton; Telegram & Gazette (Massachusetts), January 3, 2004.

New England Anti-Vivisection Society and Tufts Students Ask Tufts to Save Dogs’ Lives: ‘Turn over a New Leaf’ for the New Year. Press Release, New England Anti-Vivisection Society, December 29, 2003.

British Health Minister Says Animal Research Is "Absolutely Essential"

Lord Philip Hunt, Great Britain’s Health Minister, gave a speech this week to the Association of Medical Research Charities in which he outlined the Labor government’s policy on animal research. Hunt said,

Of course, animals should only be used in experiments where there is no alternative. But it is also clear that properly regulated animal research is absolutely essential to the discovery of new treatments, as well as to the assessment of the safety and efficacy of medicines. That is why we have strengthened the law that protects all involved in research — in the private, public and charitable sectors — to ensure that this vital work can continue.

Hunt repeated previous government statements that the sort of situation that occurred with Huntingdon Life Sciences would not happen again. According to Hunt,

The Government endorses the right to democratic protest. Equally, we condemn the violent intimidation that has taken place, and have introduced strong measures against harassment of people involved with animal research.

Predictably, animal rights groups attacked the speech. According to Animal Aid director Andrew Tyler, the speech was “part of a rather sordid and unconvincing propaganda offensive from the Government, because the argument for animal testing is slipping away from them.”

Michelle Thew of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection complained that, “There is a policy vacuum within the government — no vision, no strategy, no radical agenda for reform and no recognition to reflect the considerable and growing public concern about animal experiments.”

Jan Creamer of the National Anti-vivisection Society chimed in by claiming that “Every time the government has issued licenses to use animal testing, we have been able to find an alternative method.”

Of course, Reuters summed up the reality of the situation noting that,

Currently, most scientists believe that tests in animals are still the best way to study disease or to gauge the effectiveness of treatments before they are tried in humans.

And in most cases they are not just the best way but rather than only realistic way to test.


Animal research essential, UK government says. Manfreda Cavazza, Reuters Health, April 16, 2002.

Minister defends animal experiments. The BBC, April 16, 2002.