Animal testing has been playing a major role in the development of treatments and vaccines for the COVID-19 coronavirus over the past several months. The demand for lab animals has been so overwhelming that the United States is currently facing a monkey shortage because of all the testing.
Dr. Skip Bohm, associate director, and chief veterinary medical officer of the Tulane National Primate Research Center, told USA Today about the shortage.
“We’ve always been in a state where we were always very close to the level of production to meeting the demand for research, and that has been the status for several years. When the COVID pandemic came about, that just pressed us even further,” Bohm said.
Bohm said that monkeys are needed for research because it isn’t possible to use human volunteers in the early stages. The Rhesus Macaques has genetics that are very similar to humans and scientists are also very familiar with how their immune systems work.
“We all hope there’s a day we don’t have to use animals in research but right now … not all humans are going to submit for an examination where they get regular x-rays, regular CT analysis or blood analysis,” Bohm said.
However, critics of animal testing say that it is mostly useless and only leads to the successful development of a medication about 10% of the time.
A 2014 review published in the British Medical Journal found that “even the most promising findings from animal research often fail in human trials and are rarely adopted into clinical practice. For example, one study found that fewer than 10% of highly promising basic science discoveries enter routine clinical use within 20 years.”
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) admits that 95% of all drugs that are shown to be safe and effective in tests on animals actually end up failing in human trials because they are either ineffective or dangerous.
According to the NIH website, “Therapeutic development is a costly, complex and time-consuming process. The average length of time from target discovery to approval of a new drug is about 14 years. The failure rate during this process exceeds 95 percent, and the cost per successful drug can be $1 billion or more.”