A few things we’ve been up to recently…

Posted on February 6, 2012 by

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The AMRC office has been a busy place these past three weeks. Becky and I have been organising two big events for the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Medical Research, a group of MPs and Peers with an interest in medical research. The group organises meetings bringing  experts and active researchers and policy makers to parliament to discuss topical health research issues. It is a great way for parliamentarians to get information from medical researchers so that they can raise issues of concern to the community and scrutinise legislation.

Last week the group had its annual dinner – an opportunity to reflect on the last year for medical research and discuss what’s coming up in 2012 – and a breakfast focused on the use of animals in research as UK law is due to be updated this year to bring us into line with revisions to the EU directive governing all research using animals in Europe.

The medical research community gather in Westminster to prepare for 2012

MPs and Peers joined medical research charities, learned societies,  industry, policy makers, and regulators, at the APPG Medical Research Annual Dinner. The evening was a chance to recount the trials and tribulations of the past year in medical research and to look forward to the challenges and opportunities that 2012 may bear.

Sir John Bell, one of the government’s newly instated Life Science Champions, kicked things off with a fascinating insight into how we can get the most from the many aces that Britain holds in medical research. George Freeman MP,  life sciences advisor to the minister for science and universities, David Willetts MP, spoke of the government commitment to supporting innovation and growth in life sciences and healthcare. Rounding this off, Doris-Ann Williams, chair of the British In Vitro Diagnostics Association (BIVDA), and Sarah Woolnough, director of policy at Cancer Research UK, gave an industry and charity perspective on what needs to be done in the coming year to improve the UK medical research environment. The level and breadth of expertise in the room ensured a lively discussion followed.

A briefing summarising some of the initiatives that were under discussion is available for download here.

Breakfast briefing to MPs and Peers on animal research

UK law on animal research will be updated this year in line with a new EU Directive. This will be discussed in the Commons and the Lords, so we thought it would be a good time to get scientists, charity and industry leaders and the government’s regulators into a room with MPs and Peers to discuss the issues.

Over breakfast, parliamentarians heard why the use of animals is an integral part of medical research and how this research is conducted from scientist Professor Fran Balkwill. Judy MacArthur-Clark from the Home Office gave an overview of how this is regulated and how this is likely to change when UK law is updated and Dr Mark Prescott of NC3Rs explained how they are leading work to find ways of reducing, refining and replacing the use of animals in research.  This includes funding research into alternatives, such as computer modeling, and improving the ways experiments are designed so that less animals are needed. Finally, David Reynolds who works for Pfizer and also chairs the UK Bioscience Coalition – a group of organisations including AMRC who are involved with the use of animals in scientific and medical research and have come together to feed into the update of UK law – explained the coalition’s position on the directive.

You can check out the Q&A covering all these issues here.

Neil Parish MP- who was previously an MEP and worked on revision of the EU directive in the European Parliament – shared his experiences. Particularly how he had come to appreciate the necessity of animal research, having previously been staunchly opposed on animal welfare grounds. He stressed that animal welfare must still be at the centre of any changes made to the current regulations, something everyone in the room agreed with.

There was plenty of opportunity to discuss some of the questions and concerns parliamentarians had. The Home Office has been consulting on how to update UK law without reducing the UK’s high standards of animal welfare. We expect the Home Office to publish the responses to that consultation within the next month. They will then publish regulations for parliament to discuss before they can pass into UK law.

What next?

The APPG has a busy calendar throughout the year with a mixture of small discussion events, briefings and receptions. The group will always consider covering topical issues that parliamentarians will want information about. We’re now going to start planning a reception this summer.