To support our mission to improve and protect public health, some of our work requires the use of animals. We follow the principles of the 3Rs that aim to replace, reduce, and refine animal use, and animals are only used when an appropriate alternative cannot be found.
The below table provides information on the number and type of animals used from 2014 to 2022.
Non-human primates (NHPs)
These figures are submitted to the Home Office, who publish annual statistics on the use of animals in scientific research in Great Britain. The Home Office generally publishes their data for the previous year in July.
When designing a study, scientists aim to select the most clinically relevant type of animal, so it might experience the same illnesses or respond in a similar way to infection as humans. This guarantees that the results of each study performed in our laboratories provides the most value to global health.
Our work mostly involves small rodents and in 2022 over 93% of animals used were mice and rats. Mice and rats are often used to test the safety and efficacy of vaccines before they are used in global immunisation programmes. These tests are legally required before a medicine can be released onto the market and used in humans.
For some programmes of work, mice and rats are not suitable and larger animals may need to be used. For example, ferrets, sheep, and turkeys are important in supporting the global production of flu vaccines as they are used to prepare vital biological materials used by manufacturers and control laboratories. In doing so, we are supporting the availability of flu vaccines in the Northern and Southern hemisphere winters to protect people from the ever-changing and often life-threatening flu virus.
The use of non-human primates, such as macaques and tamarins, is only undertaken when there is no other valid alternative. Non-human primates are used to support some of our essential research into complex and deadly viruses such as HIV, Zika and more recently the Chikungunya virus infection.
The number of animals used may increase or decrease year on year, depending upon the vaccine or standards development work undertaken, or influenced by the specific timings, requirements, and volume of preclinical studies conducted. For example, the animal figures are affected by the duration of the study, and the different phases such as whether it’s an ongoing investigation or initial recruitment into new studies right through to the completion and reporting of the final study results.
Overall, in the last five years to 2022, our total annual animal usage in our studies has reduced by 57.1%, from 9133 animals used in 2018 as compared to 3917 used in 2022.
Some of the fluctuations reflect public health challenges such as COVID, in which hamsters are widely used as a model of SARS-CoV-2 infection, immune responses and the development of vaccines, or when there are intense periods of testing of certain products. Similarly, the inevitable changes to scientific priorities and the ways of working during the COVID pandemic have reflected in our usage.
We have used fewer rodents in part due lower levels of polio vaccine evaluation this year as compared to previous years. Sometimes, we provide mice to other accredited scientific sites, to enable them to conduct their own training and animal research.
We are committed to reducing, replacing, and refining animal use in our scientific and research programmes.
Our scientists develop non-animal tests to check the quality and safety of biological medicines and provide evidence and advice to encourage their use by organisations worldwide.
Find out more about our work to replace, reduce and refine animal use.