Safer Medicines - putting patient safety first

Putting patient safety first


Julia Stephenson The Green Goddess

The fight to abolish animal testing is not a cause the glossies generally race to take up. So I was delighted when, a while back, Vogue featured me in a photo shoot about green activists and invited me to plug my favourite cause.

I jumped at the chance to give some puff to BUAV (the British Union for Abolition of Vivisection) which campaigns tirelessly to let the public know the truth behind animal testing – not only that it is inhumane but also ineffective. A drug that works on animals will not necessarily work on humans, as we are so different. Just as an example, there are the 80 Aids vaccines successful in primates, which failed in human trials.

I was also excited at the chance to enter the Vogue “glamatron”, into which models and Conde Nast girls are put, only to emerge, after hours of primping, looking completely unrecognizable (many supermodels are, in reality, quite plain – but not after being “glamatronned”).

On the appointed day, a team of Voguettes flittered into my flat bearing boxes of grand Vivien Westwood frocks. So glamorous! One of the boxes was opened and a large pond coloured tent revealed. I was zipped into it and driven to BUAV’s offices, where I was to be “shot”. “You look sewper!” the Voguettes trilled. But it was a bit like the emperor with no clothes. Was I the only one who was unaware that I looked like a pond with a big white head sticking out of it?

Consequently, the picture shows me grinning inanely, swamped in the tent, with a picture of a monkey having its head sawn off in the background.

There are better ways of raising awareness, as I found when I was invited to the House of Commons by one of my favourite charities, Europeans For Medical Progress Trust, to hear its Patron, Tony Benn, speak in support of an unprecedented scientific evaluation of animal-testing to a packed house.

Benn regretted that this cause was so polarised. On one side, you have the animal-rights lobby, within which there is a tiny minority whose exploits are exaggerated by a biased media; on the other, unpleasant scientists, often in the pay of drug companies. This makes it difficult for the reasonable, rational centre-ground to get a voice.

I’m against vivisection because I abhor the wanton cruelty involved, but the great thing about Europeans for Medical Progress Trust is that it represents the scientific establishment of doctors and scientists who mistrust animal-testing because it is ineffective and puts people in danger. Benn recounted that his wife had been offered thalidomide and, thank heavens, refused it, producing a healthy son, Hilary. Many mothers weren’t so lucky. Thalidomide, like so many drugs tested on animals, went on to have devastating effects on humans.

This happens again and again. Recently, there was the Northwick Park Hospital trial disaster, when six men nearly died when given the drug TGN1412, because it was shown to be safe in monkeys at 500 times the dose. And the arthritis drug Vioxx, which appeared to protect the heart in mice and monkeys, but may have contributed to 320,000 heart attacks and strokes in people, killing up to 140,000: the biggest drug disaster in history.

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