Animal Testing and COVID-19

By Andre Menache, Scientific Advisor to Progressive Non-animal Research Society.

The Coronavirus pandemic called COVID-19 is an important opportunity to reassess the way we do medical research. Faced with this viral tsunami, scientists have not had time to find one or more animal species to serve as a ‘model’ to study this disease in the laboratory.

In the case of seasonal flu, doctors have well-known ways to lower rates of infection, such as vaccines and antiviral drugs, which can decrease the severity of symptoms and the duration of the disease. But faced with an emergency situation, researchers decided to test new treatments directly on patients. It should be noted that these are not untested medical drugs but rather drugs used for other diseases, or else different combinations of drugs already on the market.

This kind of human experimentation is called a ‘clinical trial’. Its purpose is to assess the efficacy of a treatment following the approval by ethics committees and the informed consent of the patient. A clinical trial is normally preceded by several ‘preclinical’ steps to assess the toxicity and efficacy of a new treatment. One of these steps is animal testing. This regulatory requirement dates back to the Nuremberg Codes of 1947 and is still the norm in national and international legislation today. Yet, according to the US Food and Drug Administration, out of ten medical drugs that have successfully passed the required tests on animals, nine will fail in clinical trials involving humans (due to lack of efficacy or to side effects not seen in animals). This represents a 90% failure rate or a 10% prediction rate based on animal tests.

It is interesting to note that scientists closely involved in the search for a treatment or a vaccine against COVID-19 also recognise the fact that animal tests are unreliable to predict human reactions. Let us quote some of them. According to Tal Zaks, medical director of Moderna, a successful biotech company in the United States: “I don’t think proving this in an animal model is on the critical path to getting this to a clinical trial” (1). Barney Graham, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) also in the United States notes that standard laboratory mice do not catch this new Coronavirus, as humans do (2). Finally, Karen Maschke, editor of the journal Ethics & Human Research, pointed out that animal studies are often poor predictors of what will work in humans (3).

Of course, making a new vaccine is not without risk. This is the reason for using evidence-based technologies, as demonstrated by ‘personalised’ medicine and vaccines. Indeed, doctors and researchers note that we are not all equal to the risk of infection by this virus. Why are children far less susceptible than the elderly, for example? Crucially, the clinical information that is being collected constitutes the best data to develop personalised treatments and vaccines, more effective and with fewer side effects than conventional treatments.

This is a golden opportunity to get rid of the ‘animal model’, a concept that belongs to the 20th century, and to focus our efforts on the species in question, namely humans. To try to reproduce a human disease in an animal is a perversion of science, a complete misunderstanding of the complex system that we are and of the different complex systems that make up our organism, such as the immune system. Each animal species is a complex system and therefore cannot serve as a model for another. Even among humans, there are important differences between children and adults, men and women, in terms of susceptibility to COVID-19. Rather than experimenting with ferrets, monkeys or mice, it would be more intelligent – and far more scientific – to invest in high-performance technologies of the 21st century.

One example is the ‘MIMIC’ (Modular IMmune In vitro Construct). It is an in vitro model of the human immune system (4). “The information you get from this type of test is far and beyond what you’d get out of a mouse study,” says Michael Rivard, vice president of corporate development at VaxDesign, “both because it’s humans and because you can see the effect across a spectrum of genotypes” (5).

Advanced in vitro technologies (such as MIMIC, ‘organs on a chip’ and others) must aim for a prediction rate of 85 to 90 % in order to be accepted at the regulatory level, whereas the ‘animal model’ achieves a prediction rate of only 10% according to the FDA. A testing strategy based on a battery of in vitro tests using human material would be far more relevant than pursuing animal tests. It is time to change the current paradigm in biomedical research if we want to preserve our health in the face of emerging diseases of the 21st century. Perhaps the COVID-19 pandemic will help us to question some of our outdated scientific practices as well as the obsolete regulations that still impose them.


BSc(Hons) BVSc MRCVSEBVS® European Veterinary Specialist in Animal Welfare Science, Ethics and LawMember of European College of Animal Welfare and Behavioural Medicine

Andre Menache holds degrees in zoology and veterinary medicine. Main areas of interest include animal experimentation and regulatory toxicology.



Use of animal models a primitive outdated approach – all about money

By Pradmin Basu.

It is understandable that ‘scientists’ who use animals for their research are busy requesting grants for their ‘mouse bill’. My father, Dr. Prasanta Kumar Basu, did the same thing for years at the university of Toronto where he was director of research in dept of ophthalmology. This is a money game and not the noble pursuit for the betterment of the human condition that the public (and even many of the researchers themselves) are led to believe.

As Dr. Ray Greek (one of several authorities opposed to animal research) said to UBC’s animal care committee in July 2017, the technology exists to replace animal research and that:

“even pharmaceutical companies want to move away from testing on
animals as only 1 out of every 10 drugs coming out of research and
development on animals makes its way to market”


Furthermore, Dr. Greek stated that “the stumbling block for immediate change is from the world of academia, as universities are entrenched in the lucrative government grant system.1

If we really are serious about “benefiting human health” we need to put our funding where it really counts into proper technological models and  dispose of outdated, primitive approaches that are more than 100 years old.

1 http://adavsociety.org/dr-ray-greek-speaks-to-ubcs-animal-care-committee/



Why a Progressive Non-Animal Research Society?

The Progressive Non-Animal Research Society has been formed to encourage those working in the fields of human medical research, training and product testing to pursue a scientific method that has as its basis the entire human biological, physiological and psychological system.

Much has changed since the mapping of human DNA in the latter part of the 20th century.  We now have sophisticated, human-relevant methods for studying diseases and toxicology: advanced computer-modeling techniques, microdosing, stem cell-derived organoids, 3D printing and manifold emerging approaches.  The recent COVID-19 pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 highlights the need for rapid advances in research on the mechanisms of infection and the testing of drugs without the delays inherent in animal-based trials.

We encourage you to explore the work of the Canadian Centre for Alternatives to Animal Methods (CCAAM)   http://www.uwindsor.ca/ccaam/  and the Vancouver-based Animals in Science Policy Institute  https://www.animalsinscience.org    Post-secondary educators will find the International Network for Humane Education an invaluable support with the introduction of alternatives in the learning lab   http://www.interniche.org/   We also urge you to explore the website of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine –  this leading organization in the field of alternative techniques is based in Washington DC   https://www.pcrm.org/

To those emerging or established scientists working in the field of non-animal research and training, thank you for using resources wisely, for implementing ethical research and teaching methods, and for illuminating the path ahead with progressive, 21st century research!  We invite you to share your experiences and developments with us at our website: there you will find an open blog ready for posting your comments and sharing your latest non-animal research/training news and events.  ***

For those scientists who are still working in animal modelling but who would wish to change over to innovative, human-relevant methods, our Progressive Non-Animal Research Society can connect you with experts willing and able to assist in inaugurating a system of managing the search for viable alternatives to animal use and who are willing to co-operate in a spirit of discovery and confidentiality.