Biomedical research funders respond to the Review of Research Using Non-Human Primates

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), Medical Research Council (MRC) and Wellcome Trust have responded to the independent Review of Research Using Non-Human Primates led by Professor Sir Patrick Bateson FRS.

The three major funding organisations commissioned and funded the report following the recommendation of a 2006 Working Group chaired by Sir David Weatherall that they undertake a systematic review of the outcome of all their research using non-human primates supported over the last decade.

The review aimed to: assess the quality, outputs and impacts of research in this area on advancing knowledge in human and animal health; identify the strengths and weaknesses of the funded science in this field; inform their future science and funding strategies; and feed the outcomes of the review into any Government strategy on NHP use.

"Sir Patrick's report rightly recognises the high quality of biomedical research involving non-human primates in the UK," says Sir Mark Walport, Director of the Wellcome Trust. "We agree that non-human primates should only be used when no other potential animal models are viable and when human subjects cannot be used as alternatives. The number of experiments carried out in the UK is relatively small, but such research is vital in helping us to better understand human physiology and disease.

"Together with other funders of research which involves the use of non-human primates we will give careful consideration to the recommendations made by Sir Patrick Bateson and his review team."

Non-human primates have been used in research in areas from assessing potential vaccines for HIV to studies on animal behaviour.

The Bateson review recognises that the past decade has seen improvements in the standard of animal welfare and husbandry and that new techniques have obviated the need for use of non-human primates in certain experiments.

"As funders we are all committed to the replacement, reduction and refinement of the use of animals in research," says Professor Douglas Kell, Chief Executive of BBSRC. "We always work according to these principles and there has been much progress over the past decade. Where it is still not yet possible to replace non-human primates in research with other approaches, we are dedicated to ensuring that all the research we fund is conducted to the highest standards of welfare and good husbandry."

The review also highlights the importance of deriving maximum benefit from research carried out using non-human primates through improved knowledge transfer and better access to data.

"We have a track record of ensuring the results of our research are translated into patient and public benefit," says Sir John Savill, Chief Executive of the MRC. "We realise this responsibility is particularly important when research uses animals. Benefits have emerged from the majority of the studies analysed in the Bateson review and we would anticipate more in the fullness of time. This reflects the lengthy nature of scientific enquiry, which requires time between the completion of research and tangible rewards to become obvious."

The funders are committed to ensuring that data from the research that they fund is made as widely and openly accessible as possible. However, by necessity data from research involving non-human primates may be subject to certain restrictions due to the sensitive nature of the research. The funders will explore mechanisms for improved sharing of such data and for ensuring the publication of research results, whether positive or negative.

Notes for editors

About the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences and the largest single public funder of agriculture and food-related research. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC's budget for 2011-12 is around £445M which it is investing in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life in the UK and beyond and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders, including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.

BBSRC provides institute strategic research grants to the following:

  • The Babraham Institute
  • Institute for Animal Health
  • Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (Aberystwyth University)
  • Institute of Food Research
  • John Innes Centre
  • The Genome Analysis Centre
  • The Roslin Institute (University of Edinburgh)
  • Rothamsted Research

The Institutes conduct long-term, mission-oriented research using specialist facilities. They have strong interactions with industry, Government departments and other end-users of their research.

About the Medical Research Council

For almost 100 years the Medical Research Council (MRC) has improved the health of people in the UK and around the world by supporting the highest quality science. The MRC invests in world-class scientists. It has produced 29 Nobel Prize winners and sustains a flourishing environment for internationally recognised research. The MRC focuses on making an impact and provides the financial muscle and scientific expertise behind medical breakthroughs, including one of the first antibiotics penicillin, the structure of DNA and the lethal link between smoking and cancer. Today MRC funded scientists tackle research into the major health challenges of the 21st century.

About the Wellcome Trust

The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable foundation dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health. It supports the brightest minds in biomedical research and the medical humanities. The Trust’s breadth of support includes public engagement, education and the application of research to improve health. It is independent of both political and commercial interests.