To support our mission to improve and protect public health, some of our work necessitates 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 of animals used, per species, from 2014 to 2020.
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, our staff will carefully consider the most suitable model to use. If animals are used, 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 at NIBSC provide the most value to global health. Our work mostly involves small rodents and in 2020 over 97% 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 national and global immunisation programmes. These tests are legally required before a medicine can be released onto the market and used in humans.In some situations, mice and rats are not suitable and larger animals may need to be used. For example, ferrets, sheep and turkeys are important for producing seasonal flu vaccines as they are used to prepare vital reference materials. These materials support manufacturers to make new vaccines each winter 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 and Zika.
We are committed to reducing, replacing, and refining animal use. In 2020, there was a reduction in the number of several species used when compared to the previous year and these included rodents and ferrets. Depending on the research undertaken numbers can vary year on year, and in 2020 the total number of animals used was 56.9% lower when compared to the previous year. While the decrease was due to putting some work on hold temporarily during the coronavirus pandemic restrictions, there were some increases in animal usage across areas of new critical work required to support the coronavirus pandemic response, and other urgent public health priorities. Increases in some of the species are outlined below:
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. For example, we’ve helped introduce alternative methods for testing polio vaccines, greatly reducing the use of non-human primates.
Find out more about our work to replace, reduce and refine animal use.