The Guest Blog

Guest blog posat by: Sam Alvis, Policy Officer, Wellcome Trust; Tom Van de Putte, Policy Adviser, FWO, Phillip Hahn, Helmholtz Association.

Over 66% of European citizens support the use of animals in research, which at this time is an essential tool to better our understanding of human, animal and environmental health and biology. It’s important to society that the potential public benefits outweigh the costs to the animals, and that no alternative methods are available. It’s also crucial that high ethical and welfare standards are met. As funding agencies of medical, biological and environmental research, we play a central role in ensuring that the world leading scientific work we fund is consistently meeting these standards.

The European Union Directive (2010/63/EU) on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes was issued to ensure harmonised standards of animal welfare across the EU, whilst maintaining Europe’s place as a world leader in scientific research. Following rigorous debate from a broad range of groups, it unites us under common goals of animal welfare. The Directive provides the strongest, most progressive legislative framework for the protection of animals in science in the world. It is important to ensure the principles embedded in the legal text are implemented in practice. In particular, the Directive imposes a clear and explicit obligation on licensed researchers to ensure that the 3Rs are intrinsic to their work: reduction, using fewer animals; refinement, optimising animal welfare; and replacement, using scientifically valid(ated) non-animal alternatives whenever possible. Meeting the obligations of the Directive and the relevant licencing requirements, are the minimum which funders should expect of their grantees.

On December 6th and 7th 2016 the European Commission will be holding a scientific conference entitled ‘Non-Animal Approaches – the Way Forward’, to discuss the progress made since the Directive’s implementation. Prior to the conference, non-commercial research funding organisations from across Europe assembled to discuss their role in ensuring responsible research involving animals. As an outcome of the workshop, funders publically committed to abide by three core principles. With our political independence, and highly competitive funding applications, funders are uniquely placed to help drive the standards of Directive 2010/63.

We strongly believe that ground-breaking, high quality science should adhere to and benefit from a strict set of ethical principles on animal welfare. In order to produce relevant, reproducible and translatable public benefits, funders must promote good research practice throughout the entire grant process. Assessing the potential public benefit of science, whether it is fundamental research or the development of novel diagnostics or therapies, is a key part of our role. It also provides an opportunity to explore with strategies to improve animal welfare.

Transparency around research involving animals is vital in sustaining and growing public support. It’s important we are ready and willing to explain the relevance of research involving animals to ensure continued confidence of European citizens. Openness with regard to the scientific output, ensuring appropriate data and publications are available to those that can use it (while still protecting researchers and intellectual property) is a key factor in this. It can help reduce duplication, as well as providing data for new research questions. We are advocates of open access and open science wherever feasible. By working collaboratively, we can share good practice and pool ideas to improve animal welfare along with scientific excellence.

The Commission conference provides an opportunity for all those with a stake in research involving animals to discuss the progress which the Directive has initiated, and to highlight some of the excellent work scientists have done toward the 3Rs. We welcome the opportunity to review the Directive’s impact on research and harm-benefit assessment. At the same time, the conference will also provide an opportunity for every stakeholder to outline its role in ensuring responsible research, and a chance to reflect how they can promote policies and implement processes that lead to the best outcome for both science and animal welfare. All those with a stake in animals in research now need to reflect on their responsibilities, and be active in their role in ensuring responsible research.

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