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swissuniversities, ETH Board, Swiss University Medicine unimedsuisse, Swiss 3R Competence Center, Young Academy, SNSF, Swissfaculty, Swiss Academies

Research in the service of human and animal health

Academic research institutions are pleased with the unequivocal commitment to responsible research involving animals and humans. The debate surrounding the initiative fostered discussion about the importance of research, understanding the methods and processes that lead to new knowledge, and improving medical care for humans and animals, among other things. The concern for animal welfare is shared by the researchers: They are working hard to develop the 3Rs (Reduce, Refine, Replace) principles and respect the high ethical and legal standards for research in Switzerland.

Representatives of swissuniversities, the ETH Board, Universitäre Medizin Schweiz unimedsuisse, the Swiss 3R Competence Center, Swiss Young Academy, SNSF, Swissfaculty and the Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences provided information on the importance of research with animals and humans at a presse conference on 13th of January 2022. The institutions of academic public research and the university hospitals warn of the consequences of adopting the federal popular initiative for a prohibition of human and animal experimentation. It threatens progress, innovation and education in the life sciences and biotechnologies in Switzerland. The acceptance of this initiative would lead to a de facto ban on medicine and research, and it would prevent biomedical research and new medical treatments in particular. The high quality of healthcare and responsible research in Switzerland to the benefit of the population and the environment are at stake.

Video Point de Presse

Michael O. Hengartner, President of the ETH Board: :

«There are no new medicines without animal experimentation and clinical trials. Doing without them would be a huge autogoal and harmful for us and our children. Animal experiments are also carried out within the ETH Domain. And intensive research is being carried out into alternatives. Not all animal experiments can be replaced, so they remain necessary. Research into vaccines against COVID-19 has also shown this. »

Yves Flückiger, President of swissuniversities:

«With a ban, as proposed by the initiative, research and innovation cannot fulfil their responsibility towards society: Finding solutions to societal challenges such as serious diseases. If the initiative is adopted, Switzerland would be the only country at international level with such a ban. Switzerland would thus be isolated and research projects would be relocated to countries with weaker policies and legislation than currently prevail in Switzerland with regard to animal welfare and responsible research.»

Bertrand Levrat, President of Swiss University Medicine unimedsuisse:

«The comprehensive ban on treatment and research proposed in the initiative would create ethically questionable situations because patients' access to new therapies and thus their right to good health care and participation in medical progress would be impaired. The import ban on drugs developed abroad by means of animal experimentation would result in hospitals no longer being able to treat their patients with new, effective therapies. High-quality health care at the cutting edge of knowledge would no longer be possible.»

Jenny Sandström, Executive Director - Swiss 3R Competence Centre :

«The application of the 3Rs is an important part of responsible research. Our task is to strengthen their practical implementation in animal experiments. The 3RCC sets to this end standards for good 3R practice and works closely with the research community to implement them in practice. The 3Rs principle would no longer be relevant in Switzerland if the initiative were adopted. »

Elisa Araldi, Swiss Young Academy:

«Young researchers like me would have no future in Switzerland without animal and human experimentation. One example: We have found out at ETH that certain diabetes drugs do not work for people with a certain genetic mutation. Discoveries resulting from the combined use of human data and animal studies are used to develop new personalised therapeutic methods.»

Matthias Egger, President of the National Research Council of the SNSF:

«A total ban on animal experiments and research on humans would cause Switzerland to lose touch with international research. The initiative would prevent progress in the treatment of patients. Through its high quality standards for research projects, the SNSF acts in accordance with the 3Rs principles for the humane treatment of animals. The SNSF launched in May 2021 at the request of the Federal Council the National Research Programme “Advancing 3R – Animals, Research and Society”. It is intended to take account of the tensions surrounding animal welfare and to further improve research in biomedicine.»

Hubert Steinke, Swissfaculty:

«Those who decide to accept this initiative decide that we will give up a large part of our current research and settle for second- or third-rate therapy in the future. Anyone who thinks that we should continue to develop and use promising medicines, vaccinations and therapies as we have done for 150 years should reject this initiative.»

Marcel Tanner, President of the Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences:

«Morals, ethics and protective principles - not prohibitions - form the basis for successful science in the service of humans and animals. Animal experiments are still indispensable and in many cases required by law in order to provide patients with safe medicines and to develop new therapies against serious and still incurable diseases such as AIDS, Alzheimer's, cancer or mental illness.»

Marc Reynaud-de la Jara, Liaison Officer VSS and Kate Gurevich, President swimsa - Swiss Medical Students' Association:

«Many aspects of medical teaching would be called into question. Anatomical dissection courses or scientific work such as the Master's thesis could no longer be carried out. We fear a brain drain of professors and feel strongly affected by a ban on new medicines, which would lead to an increasing gap over our career in international comparison.»

Main arguments

Ban on medicine

The initiative would prevent people and animals in Switzerland from benefiting from any future medical advances. Methods for diagnosis and treatment that could alleviate pain and save lives of human beings and animals would thereby be forbidden. In the case of SARS-CoV-2 (coronavirus), for example, no vaccine could or can be approved for human use without being reliably tested in animals and in clinical studies first. The initiative includes an import ban on products that are being researched abroad using animal experiments. This would mean that the Swiss population would no longer have access to new treatment methods that are developed according to international standards.

Ban on research

Research with animals and clinical studies with people are a prerequisite for progress and innovation in numerous areas. The results benefit especially human and veterinary medicine, the environment and agriculture, as well as basic and behavioural research. The adoption of the initiative would render research also in certain fields in human sciences impossible, such as for example studies in psychology or pedagogy.

3R-Principle: Replace, Reduce, Refine

In experiments involving animals, the researchers are obliged to apply the 3R principle: Replace, Reduce, Refine. This principle demands that animal experiments should only be approved if no alternative method exists, the number of animals involved in the experiments is limited to the necessary minimum, and the experimental methods and housing conditions are as minimally stressful as possible. The use of animal models remains necessary for research into serious diseases and the development of new medical treatments and procedures that can save lives and reduce suffering.

Responsible research

The legislation on animal testing in Switzerland is one of the most stringent in the world. The current legal framework guarantees ethically justifiable research (see also the swissuniversities policy for animal research). As for research involving human beings, the aim of the Federal Act on Research involving Human Beings (HRA) is to “protect the dignity, privacy and health of human beings involved in research.”. In particular, this legislation guarantees that in clinical research the interests of the individual human being should take precedence over the interests of science and society. The Helsinki Declaration was also signed by Switzerland.

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