Use of non-human primates

Medicines and vaccines need to be studied in an animal where the physiology and disease process is similar to that in humans. In some cases, non-human primates are the only animals that are similar enough to provide the critical information about a disease and its reaction to treatment.  

Examples include the discovery of medicines for diseases such as HIV/AIDS, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, certain forms of viral hepatitis, and for testing the safety and quality of some vaccines. 

The research we do on non-human primates is kept to an absolute minimum. Less than 0.2% of the animals we use in our studies are non-human primates.

When we use non-human primates

Our policy requires that non-human primates are only used in research projects if no other species is appropriate for the purposes of the program. Occasionally, non-human primates may be the only animals where the anatomy and/or physiology of a disease is the equivalent to that in humans, and/or a similar disease develops. Also, sometimes only human and non-human primates will be affected by, or respond to, a potential medicine or vaccine. For instance, a new medicine may be based on a molecule produced by primates, including humans, and would be destroyed by the immune systems of other species.

So in certain cases we need to conduct tests on non-human primates before deciding whether to start trials in humans. As well as testing efficacy and safety, such tests will include evaluation of how potential new medicines are absorbed, distributed, metabolized and excreted. Additionally they may be required for safety testing and quality testing of some vaccines. 

There are also some situations where we have to test vaccines that we already produce on non-human primates to ensure that each batch is effective and safe for use. These cases are always guided by national regulations or scientific requirements and are kept to a minimum.

Where our non-human primates come from

We use non-human primates that have been specifically bred for use in research. We would only use primates caught in the wild under exceptional circumstances and only with specific authorizations from the appropriate authorities.

Great apes in research

At the end of October 2008, we voluntarily introduced a new policy stating that we would no longer carry out studies or fund studies using great apes. Great apes are a sub-group of non-human primates which covers gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans, and bonobos. In the vast majority of biomedical studies, it has been chimpanzees that have been studied. 

We recognise that these studies involving chimpanzees have played a vital role in the understanding of many diseases that affect humans - specifically infectious diseases such as hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS.

However, we also recognise that due to the advancement of animal models and other techniques in biomedical research - the case for using great apes is no longer clear.