There is no love lost between Anthony Fauci and PETA. We repeatedly objected to the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases’ (NIAID) foolish funding of pointless tests on animals. Those tests include poisoning tests on beagles and decades of vicious HIV experiments on monkeys, some of which involved whole-body irradiation of the animals, that have not yielded an effective, marketable vaccine.
But now we must focus on the future.
Fauci’s announcement that he will step down from the NIAID directorship gives our nation an opportunity to modernize the research conducted and funded by the institute. It is impossible to overstate the importance of appointing the right person for this position. President Joe Biden’s nominee for the director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), following Francis Collins’ departure last year, is even more critical.
These are not perfunctory appointments, or at least they shouldn’t be. This is an opportunity to chart an entirely new course in scientific research. It is a rare chance to create a research agency envied the world over, a vanguard in the development of 21st century solutions to human maladies that can also swiftly focus on new, unexpected developments and quickly defend against the coming of the next pandemic.
To do this, NIAID and NIH need leaders who can face one crucial fact: The era of animal experimentation is over.
The agencies have adhered mindlessly to a failed research model based on animal experimentation that continues to fail spectacularly, wasting time, money and lives:
- 95% of new drugs deemed safe and effective in animals in laboratories are found unsafe or ineffective in humans.
- 81% of the time, animal tests fail to detect the potential side effects of drugs in humans.
- 90% of basic research, on which NIH focuses and most of which involves animals, fails to lead to any human therapies within 20 years.
- 89% of experiments cannot even be replicated, resulting in a $28 billion annual waste on research that may be inaccurate or misleading.
The numbers for specific diseases are no better:
- 100% of treatments for strokes and sepsis developed in animals have failed in humans.
- 99.6% of Alzheimer’s disease treatments developed in animals have failed in humans.
- Only 3.4% of oncology drugs tested on animals have succeeded in humans.
- Animal tests have achieved no cure or treatment for cancer, and despite a 50-year “war on cancer,” the disease is still the second-leading killer of Americans, just as it was in 1971.
NIH is a $42 billion agency that annually wastes at least $20 billion by funding experiments on animals, effectively probing apples for the existence of oranges. It must divert that money into human-relevant research: epidemiological studies and in vitro work using human cells, integrative modelling and molecular simulations or 3-D printed human tissues, cell-based assays and organs-on-a-chip. These methods are more accurate and are directly relevant to humans: Because no animals are standing in for humans, the results are directly applicable.
Biden has an opportunity to point NIAID and NIH toward the more humane and effective innovations of tomorrow, rather than dwelling on the cruel and unreliable habits of yesterday. We need leaders who are unafraid to chart new courses, leaders who learn from the past instead of repeating it. Our choices define who we are. Let’s choose well.
Alka Chandna, Ph.D., serves as vice president of laboratory investigations cases at PETA