Why I Take Animal-Tested Drugs

One of my doctors has told me to get my affairs in order, which is why I'm
writing this column. I want to explain why someone who takes so many
animal-tested drugs is opposed to animal research.

I have full-blown leukemia and the chemotherapy I'm taking doesn't seem to
be working all that well. And even if it does kick into high gear soon,
it's not a cure, only a brief delay of the disease's progression. One way
or another, my odds aren't good.

One of my doctors has told me to get my affairs in order, which is why I'm
writing this column. I want to explain why someone who takes so many
animal-tested drugs is opposed to animal research.

I have full-blown leukemia and the chemotherapy I'm taking doesn't seem to
be working all that well. And even if it does kick into high gear soon,
it's not a cure, only a brief delay of the disease's progression. One way
or another, my odds aren't good.

Still, I keep popping pills each morning and night, sitting for many hours
each week with an IV in my arm, dealing with all the side-effects of
treatment, hoping for a miracle. Some people may call me a
hypocrite--to take advantage of the benefits of animal research. Let
me explain.

The truth is that I don't feel I've ultimately benefited from
our healthcare system, despite some truly exceptional care and
many amazingly compassionate practitioners. Just the opposite.

I first developed myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) in 2004 from the chemo I
was prescribed for breast cancer. In 2006, I underwent a stem cell
transplant, which gave me two years of remission (albeit with many
horrible side effects). This past July, I relapsed--this time
with acute myeloid leukemia (AML). My prognosis is grim.

Throughout the past six years, I have felt terribly guilty about the drugs
and procedures I've undergone because I know that so many animals have
suffered in their development. I know about these conditions because of my
former job--working for a nonprofit that promotes alternatives to
animal research. I know about the conditions from talking with former
animal researchers and others who have witnessed the cruelty. In fact, one
man I know from an Internet support group remembers hearing lab dogs
yelping in pain at the hospital where we both had our transplants.

The truth--mostly hidden from public view--is that animal research
is horribly cruel. Despite what the research community claims,
federal regulations are extremely weak and poorly enforced, and
some species--mice, for example--are completely excluded from
any protection. Many investigations have shown just how bad conditions
are.

But as someone who recently signed up for hospice, I have another major
problem with animal research. I wonder if science would have found a cure
for my leukemia by now if they weren't sidetracked by misleading animal
tests. I wonder if the chemo that I took for breast cancer would have been
safer it hadn't been tested in species that are so unlike our own.

The truth is that using animals to develop and test drugs is a system that
doesn't work very well. It's an old paradigm, one that is fortunately
beginning to change, however slowly. A growing number of scientists are
developing some exciting (and more effective) non-animal alternatives.
These changes have been inspired partly by concern over animal cruelty but
also because animal research and testing have so often failed us. Some
government agencies are even starting to call for more alternatives.

More than 90 percent of all new drugs which proved effective in animals
end up not working for humans. It's because animals--however similar
they are to us--have different physiological systems. What works in a
mouse usually doesn't work in a human.

History is filled with stories of drugs that didn't work in animals--Aspirin,
for example--that ended up working in humans. And the obituary pages
are filled with stories of people who died from drugs that looked safe in
animals. The painkiller Vioxx, for example, tested safe in mice and five
other species but ended up killing many thousands of Americans.

If you wonder how I can justify taking the drugs, the truth is that like
all living beings ("lab animals" included) I desperately want
to live. And because of government regulations, I don't have a choice.

The current drug approval system doesn't yet acknowledge the superiority
of human-focused, nonanimal research methods (such as microdosing) and all
pharmaceutical companies must use animals to get their drugs approved.
Hopefully, this situation will soon change. A coalition of animal
protection groups and physicians has petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration to accept the results of alternative tests, when available.

If the chemo drugs I'm trying now don't work, I do have one last option. I
could try a Phase One trial. That's when a drug looks promising in animals
and is first tested in humans. My doctor started to tell me why so many
participants die in Phase One trials--but it turned out I already
knew the answer. Drugs that work in animals, he explained, usually don't
work in humans.