A reader recently posted a copy of an article from the Seattle Post Intelligencer published in April 2000 that illustrates how animal rights activists cleverly omit certain facts to make their extremely weak case against animal experimentation appear far stronger than it is.
The article in question, “Human Lives Not Saved by Lab Animals,” was written by Murry Cohen of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. As a prime example of how useless animal research is, Cohen told readers about side effects from an FDA-approved drug, Plavix. Here’s Cohen’s paragraph on the drug,
While the praises of animal experimentation were being sung in a five-part series in your paper the week of 16 April, yet another animal-testing failure was being reported in the New England Journal of Medicine. According to a study released on 20 April, a widely used anti-clotting medication called Plavix has been found to cause a potentially deadly blood condition called TTP (thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura). Plavix, which is being taken by more than 3 million patients, passed all required animal tests and was deemed safe for humans. Now it’s causing bleeding, anemia, and kidney failure in some users.
Sounds frightening, but there’s a lot of information that Cohen left out.
Plavix was developed, as Cohen notes, to act as a blood clotting agent. More importantly, Plavix was developed and marketed as a replacement for the blood clotting drug ticlopidine. Guess what the major side effect of ticlopidine is? That’s right, the blood clotting agent causes TTP episodes in as many as 1 in 1,600 people who take the drug. TTP typically appear within the first two weeks of use of the drug, and requires close monitoring of patients taking the drug.
Plavix was hailed because in human clinical testing, not one case of TTP occurred among the 20,000+ people who took the drug as part of Phase 3 trials. When it was made available in the real world, however, a small number of cases of TTP were discovered to occur in people taking Plavix. But the news is still overwhelmingly positive.
As Cohen mentioned, at the time of the New England Journal of Medicine article, about 3 million people had taken the anti-clotting agent. How many known cases of TTP were there? A grand total of 11. Even assuming that researchers were only aware of 10 percent of the total TTP incidents, that means that Plavix reduced TTP-related adverse events 17-fold.
It is hardly surprising, by the way, that neither animal nor human studies found such a rare side effect. Even inflating the 11 known cases 10-fold, means that only about 1 in 27,000 people who take the drug will experience TTP. In total only about 20,000 patients took the drug during its human clinical trials. To catch such rare side effects would require increasing the numbers of animals and human beings used as test subjects, and at some point the costs of doing so begin to outweigh the benefits.
Still, only in the mind of an animal rights activist do animal and human research that results in an overwhelming reduction of potentially life threatening drug side effects count as proof that animal experimentation doesn’t work.
In fact the case with Plavix demonstrates just the opposite. Researchers had a drug they were using that had known side effects. Through a combination of animal research and human clinical trials, an alternative compound that causes far fewer side effects was brought to market. In this case, human lives were saved thanks to animal research.
Human Lives Not Saved by Lab Animals. Murry J. Cohen, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 28, 2000.