Misleading the Public about the Value of Animal Research in the Case of Deramaxx

Are human beings and dogs too different for medical research on dogs to help understand human disease? A number of animal rights activists were practically gloating when a Novartis spokesman appeared to say so in January.

Novartis had its hands slapped by the Food and Drug Administration over its failure to timely report about the death of dogs taking Deramaxx. Deramaxx is a COX-2 inhibitor that is used as a painkiller in dogs after surgery. COX-2 inhibitors have come under a lot of scrutiny recently due to studies suggesting they may elevate the risk of heart attacks.

The FDA complained that Novartis had not timely reported deaths of dogs who were given Deramaxx. Reuters quoted a spokesman for Novartis, however, as downplaying any link between the dog deaths and the problems reported in human beings with COX-2 inhibitors,

Joseph Burkett, a spokesman for Novartis Animal Health Services, said the cardiovascular problems linked to such drugs for people were “not an issue” for dogs, because canine hearts are different from those of humans.

Obviously, a pharma official seeming to say that dog and human hearts are too different for research on one to be relevant to the other was a nice gift to the animal rights activists, but it was also inaccurate and deceptive. Either the spokesman or the journalist simply screwed up and oversimplified why the deaths in dogs are probably irrelevant to human beings in this case.

The reality is this: COX-2 inhibitors appear to elevate the risk of heart attacks in human beings who already suffer from hypertension. Hypertension is simply not a prevalent problem in healthy dogs. As Novartis noted on its web site,

The cardiovascular risks suspected to be related to coxib-class NSAIDs in people is extremely unlikely to be an issue in dogs. The risks associated with these drugs in humans involve an increased risk of heart attacks, especially in patients with hypertension (high blood pressure). Heart attacks and hypertension are rarely an issue in healthy dogs. A heart attack occurs when one or more vessels that supply the heart muscle itself with blood become blocked. The blockage is usually caused by cholesterol accumulation along the walls of the blood vessels. This condition is called atherosclerosis, or “hardening of the arteries.” Heart attacks in dogs are rare because dogs are extremely unlikely to get atherosclerosis and dogs have a higher number of vessels which supply blood to the heart. Thus, if one vessel becomes clogged there are additional vessels that supply blood to the heart. High blood pressure is also not a problem in healthy dogs since hypertension in humans is heavily influenced by lifestyle (stress, diet, exercise and smoking).

So if you wanted to study the effects of a hypertension drug in an animal model, healthy dogs would not be your first choice. Typically in studying hypertension with dogs, hypertension would be induced surgically.


FDA links dog deaths to drug. Reuters, December 29, 2004.

Novartis Threatens to Pull Investments Out of UK

The Guardian reports that Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis has warned that continued acts of animal rights extremism in Great Britain may force it to direct its investments elsewhere.

Novartis chair Daniel Vasella gave a speech in China which touched on the investment climate in various countries. The Guardian reported that Vasella said,

The UK is the worst. It is scaring our people. If they become so scared that it becomes a major issue, we could come close to leaving.

The Guardian reported that Vasella referred to Novartis’ new 40 million pound research center in West Sussex,

Mr. Vasella said the staff there were being intimidated to a degree that made him wonder whether it was wise to remain.


Animal rights activists force drug firm to rethink UK role. Jonathan Watts, The Guardian, November 15, 2004.

Novartis Puts Its Money Where Its Mouth Is

Just a couple weeks after suggesting that Great Britain’s failure to control animal rights extremism would deter Novartis from investing there, Novartis last week announced it will spend hundreds of million of dollars to build a state-of-the art research facility in Boston, Massachusetts.

Novartis will kick things off with a $250 million, 400 research center in an MIT-owned research park called Kendall Square.

From there Novartis expects to expand quickly. It is already in talks to lease another building in Kendall Square and is also reported to be looking for 2-3 other buildings in the area to lease.

Novartis joins Pfizer, Wyeth and Merck as companies that have chosen to invest significant research dollars in Cambridge, Mass.

The big loser in this, of course, is Europe. Europe used to be the hands-down winner in drug research, but it is quickly becoming an also-ran due to an unfriendly cultural and legal climate.

According to The Financial Times of London, of all research dollars spent in Europe and the United States, only about 41 percent of that money went to the United States. Today the figure is 58 percent. As a whole, European companies currently conduct 34 percent of their research in the United States, compared to only 26 percent in 1990.

Europe is far behind the United States when it comes to biotech, which is one of the reasons that attracted Novartis to the Kendall Square facility.

The upshot, of course, is that as the United States continues to receive the disproportionate amount of pharmaceutical investment, the animal rights movement’s focus could switch to the United States more than it has. On the other hand, the social climate is far more hostile to the animal rights movement in the United States.

After all, Great Britain’s left-liberal candidate used to brag that he would ban the hunting of foxes with dogs, while the U.S. left-liberal candidate in the last election bragged about how he had hunted as a boy in order to shore up his support in rural areas.

The recent defeats the animal rights movement suffered in the 2002 Farm Bill is a good example of just how little influence the animal rights movement has on national politics in the United States (one of the many benefits of not having a proportional representation system).


Seeking freedom in New England: The decision by Novartis to move research to Boston is the latest step away from Europe by a big pharmaceutical. Daniel Dombey and Victoria Griffith, The Financial Times (London), May 8, 2002.

Novartis coming to Cambridge. Scott van Voorhis, The Boston Herald, May 8, 2002.

Novartis Chief Says His Company Would Hesitate to Invest Further in the UK

The Daily Telegraph (London) reported today that Novartis chief executive officer Dan Vasella said that his company would find it difficult to expand its efforts in Great Britain so long as animal rights terrorism remains a serious problem in the UK.

In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, Vasella said animal rights extremism was a big concern to Novartis,

We would hesitate to increase our exposure to it. It’s a very serious matter. It’s a big issue — big for the UK. It isn’t just hurting the industry, it is hurting the country. It is a big deterrent when you are considering site locations.

Like other observers, Vasella seems skeptical that new regulations and laws have done much to deter animal rights extremism. “While we appreciate what the UK Government does against this form of terrorism,” Vasella said, “it does not appear to be enough as there still are incidents.”


Novartis shies from animal activists: The Swiss drugs giant hesitates on UK investment due to animal rights ‘terrorists’. Rosie Murray-West, The Daily Telegraph (London), May 1, 2002.

More Xenotransplantation Advances

Even if they don’t lead
immediately to treatments in human beings, the announcement of two recent
advances in genetic engineering of organs provides more evidence of the
sort of technologies likely to hit the mainstream of medical technology
before the end of the next decade.

In mid-February researchers
announced in Science News that they had successfully transplanted
bladders grown in the lab into six beagles. The scientists grew the bladder
cells around a plastic form to make it take the shape of the bladder and
then implanted the artificial bladders in the dogs. Within three months
the artificial bladders were completely active and some of the dogs have
had the bladders for almost a year with no problems.

Obviously getting the technology
to work in human beings is a whole other problem, but these experiments
are doing for this technology what the early animal experiments on organ
transplantations did – they suggest solutions and help scientists better
understand the problems they will encounter when seeking to grow human
organs in the lab.

In a related story, Canadian
researchers are hoping to take that step of translating animal experiments
into a treatment for human beings sometime this year. Researchers there
expect for the first time to use a genetically engineered pig liver to
keep a human being alive while waiting for a liver transplant from a human

Pharmaceutical company Novartis,
which has been harshly criticized by animal rights activists for its efforts
in genetic engineering, is reportedly ready to spend up to $1 billion
to develop a viable pig liver. To avoid the risk of spreading disease
from pigs to human beings, the pigs will be raised under special conditions
to assure they are disease free. The pigs are isolated from other animals
and housed in a sterile environment. The pigs are fed by hand to avoid
microbes that might pass from pig to pig while suckling.

The impetus to move forward
with this technology is especially strong in Canada which has a rather
low rate of human organ donation – only 12.1 donors per million people
compared to the U.S. with 17.7 donors per million people.

As I noted two weeks ago,
the Campaign for Responsible Transplantation attacked Americans for Medical Progress for highlighting former Chicago Bear running back Walter Payton’s
recent announcement that he has a rare fatal liver disease. The CRT attack
on AMP, however, seemed like an act of desperation. They tried to throw
everything but the kitchen sink at AMP – xenotransplantation might not
work, it poses a risk of transmitting disease across species, it could
be avoided by increasing the donor pool, etc.

There are many responses to
these claims (CRT doesn’t seem to keep up with recent scientific advancements
in genetic engineering) but as far as I can tell the bottom line is this:
animal rights activism in the medical experimentation field has been successful
largely to the extent that it has engaged people’s sympathies against
hurting animals, especially unnecessarily. But that play on emotionalism
is a double-edged sword, since most people are openly “speciesist”
who, when it comes down to it, will find the suffering and pain of Walter
Payton far more compelling and worthy of alleviation than that of a pig
whose death could save Payton’s life.

What seems to anger CRT to
no end is that AMP gave them a taste of their own medicine with their
focus on Payton. I say more power to them.