Evergreen: Statistics out of context, predictability, and utility of animal models

March 18th 2022

In a recent letter to the US National Institutions of Health (NIH) , Congressman Ted W. Lieu (D-CA) and Congresswoman Nancy Mace (R-SC) called for the NIH “to discontinue animal experiments and find alternatives to animal testing.” They write:

“As Members of Congress, we are concerned the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is placing undue priority on funding experiments on animals that have failed to lead to treatments, vaccines, and cures for human diseases. NIH’s own startling statistic shows that 95% of new drugs fail in human trials and 90% of basic research, much of it involving animal models, fails to lead to human therapies. Moreover, in certain areas of research, the failure rates for new drugs are even higher: Alzheimer’s disease (99.6%), sepsis (100%), and stroke (100%).”

Given that their letter contains the evergreen claims made by PETA and cites PETA’s “Research Modernization Deal” we thought we’d share a couple of posts that provide the nuance these Congress members and PETA failed to do.

In 2008, Speaking of Research founder, Tom Holder, wrote about  the misleading statement that “92% of drugs fail during human trials”.

“90.5% of dangerous drugs have been kept out of clinical trials thanks to animal safety tests”

In 2013, Professor Robin Lovell-Badge provided a very clear and thorough debunking of a common animal rights myth where they suggest that because nine out of ten drugs that pass animal tests still fail to be approved, that animal tests must not work.

“Consider that of all the drugs which pass Phase 1 clinical trials in humans, 86% will fail in later stage human trials. Yet, we do not hear activists suggesting that humans are an entirely inappropriate model for drug development”

In 2017, Dale Cooper guest  blogged on the utility of animal models in drug development, misconceptions about animal models, and alternative methods of drug development,

“Experts in drug development understand the limitations of animal models, but they also understand their applications. There have been several publications that have retrospectively evaluated the value of animal models in predicting human safety across a variety of therapeutic areas and the overall percentage of human toxicities predicted by animal models is around 70% with variability between different species and body systems.  Predictability for some therapeutic areas are over 90%. When different models are used in combination, the predictability increases. It is also an established fact that only about 1 in 10,000 drugs tested make it to the market and that there is over a 90% attrition rate of drugs in human clinical trials. How does this happen if animal models are predictive?”

As you can see, the arguments advanced by those opposed to animal research are not new. We, and others, have debunked these claims since the inception of Speaking of Research. Yet, the parroting of these claims, without regard to fact and basic understanding of science and medicine continues. As we have experienced in other aspects of our life, incessant repetitions of specious claims is not in the best interests of the public or of society writ large.

~Speaking of Research