Pharmaceutical companies have traditionally tended to avoid direct involvement in the debate on animal research, even though they and their employees and contractors are among the more frequent targets of animal rights extremism, so I was delighted to see this new video from the leading pharmaceutical company Novartis on YouTube.
That it is Novartis leading the way on this issue should not be too much of a surprise. In 2009 animal rights extremists fire-bombed the house of Daniel Vasella, then CEO of Novartis, during a vicious campaign that also included the theft of his Grandmother’s ashes from her grave. If the extremists expected Novartis to give in to their demands (to stop dealing with contract research organization Huntingdon Life Sciences) they were to be disappointed, not only did Novartis not cave in to their attacks, but in an interview with USA Today Daniel Vasella spoke of the need for pharmaceutical industry leaders to speak out against animal rights extremists, correctly stressing the need to marshall public support for animal research.
Q: What do you get from confronting enemies? You’re not going to change their minds.
A: You win public support. With that, you can achieve anything. Without public support, you cannot achieve anything.
Q: This Q&A makes no attempt to determine right and wrong in animal testing debate. But aren’t you helping activists by giving them the soapbox they desire?
A: I don’t believe so. It’s my duty as a citizen to speak up when illegal actions take place. Suffering in silence doesn’t help anybody. You have to stand up. You have to fight for something. If everyone remained silent, then the people who are violent would prevail.
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Q: If you were to do it over again, would you do anything differently?
A: I would go public earlier, immediately. We should have done more to engage politicians and the press in making them aware what was going on, because we need the public to understand.
These are messages that everyone involved in biomedical research – not just the CEOs of pharmaceutical companies – should take on board.
Novartis has a good record of developing innovative treatments, and of course this success has depended on – amongst many other methods – basic and translational animal research. A very good example of this is the broad-coverage meningitis B vaccine Bexsero which is currently under review by the European Medicines Agency, which will, if approved, become the first vaccine to protect against a a broad range of group B Neisseria meningitidis strains responsible for a disease that kills and injures hundreds of mostly young people in the USA every year, and many thousands world-wide. Naturally studies in animals played a critical role in the development of this new vaccine, as I discussed in a post on Speaking of Research in 2008.
This initiative by Novartis is in its infancy, but is a promising sign that while Daniel Vasella may have retired from his position as CEO of Novartis, his enthusiasm for engaging with the public has rubbed off on his former colleagues.
Well done Novartis!