In order to satisfy a judge’s order, the University of Washington Board of Regents was required to listen to a national expert about the use of animals in medical and drug research.
A national expert on medical and drug research laid out a case against the use of animals in laboratory experiments during a University of Washington Board of Regents meeting Thursday.
The unusual testimony, through an online video connection, came 15 months after the UW’s governing board took a second vote to approve a $124 million underground animal-research laboratory.
The lab is under construction on Northeast Pacific Street, where a yellow crane swings back and forth over the site alongside Foege Hall. It is expected to be finished next year.
Last year, an animal-rights group successfully sued the UW Regents for violating the state’s Open Public Meetings Law when it approved the lab. A King County Superior Court judge found the UW had violated the law by meeting for dinner and discussing business at least 24 times in the past three years.
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During one of those meetings, the 10-member Regents Board discussed the research lab, and on November 2013, it approved the project.
The animal-rights group, No New Animal Lab, argued it never got a chance to present a case against animal research because the decision was made in secret. As part of the settlement, Judge Laura Inveen required the UW Regents to listen to a presentation on animal research, even though construction is well under way, and even though the regents voted a second time, in November 2014, reaffirming their initial vote.
That’s where John Pippin came in.
Pippin, director of academic affairs for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, gave testimony via online video Thursday, his face projected onto a giant screen in the UW’s Intellectual House, where the regents met.
Pippin, who has been on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and the Medical College of Virginia, told the regents that basic science research is increasingly moving away from animals because the results are often unreliable. A drug that works well in a primate, for example, often doesn’t work the same in a human, he said.
He described the testing of drugs in animals as “not good science” and said the trend nationally is for major funders, such as the National Institutes of Health, to move away from that.
Pippin argued that the decision to build a new, $124 million animal lab “could produce a financial disaster for the UW” if money for animal research dries up. The UW expects to pay off the bonds it sold to finance the project with future animal-research grants.
The UW is building what it describes as a state-of-the-art lab to consolidate its animal research in one location, and house the animals in better conditions. The facility is being built underground, the UW says, because the city of Seattle has required the school to preserve the view corridor to Portage Bay on that site.
Several dozen animal-welfare activists came to the meeting and asked Pippin questions about the science of animal research. The regents didn’t ask any questions.
After Pippin spoke, David Anderson, executive director of the UW’s Health Sciences Administration, told the regents the university uses animals in research only when there is no alternative. He said the UW used 30 percent fewer animals in 2015 than it did 10 years ago, even though it is conducting more research overall.
And while some alternatives to animal research are promising, they are still in development and can’t replace the use of an animal in many experiments, he said.
No New Animal Lab activists have been involved in a months-long campaign to try to get the contractor, Skanska USA, to walk away from the construction work. They have protested in front of Skanska officials’ homes and offices in Seattle, New York and Sweden.
Michael Brady, an activist, said the group’s goal is to continue to press Skanska in hopes the company will pull out of the contract.