BRITAIN IS in danger of being left behind in the advancement of medical science because of its strict policy on the use of animals in experiments.
A hundred scientists, including Nobel laureates and 38 Royal Society fellows, have complained to the Government of the time and effort it takes to get permission to use animals.
In an open letter to the minister for Science, Lord Sainsbury of Turville, the scientists say it takes months of bureaucracy to obtain a licence for animal studies, against the weeks or days overseas competitors spend on such tasks.
The letter says: "We are deeply concerned the United Kingdom may not be able to maintain its position as one of the world's leading scientific nations in many areas of biotechnology and biomedical science because of the way bureaucracy and delays are impeding the use of animals in research."
The scientists say that with completion of the "first draft" of the human genome expected in days, progress in "post- genomic" medicine will depend even more on animal studies.
They say: "At the same time, the UK's system of regulating the use of animals in research is becoming more lengthy, complex, bureaucratic and inflexible than in other leading scientific nations. This is already having a harmful effect on UK science."
The scientists say they do not want to water down laws on use of animals in research - the strictest in the world - but want it to be made easier for scientists to abide by the rules.
The letter says: "Researchers using animals in the UK are already in a situation where overseas competitors can complete a series of experiments and be exploiting the results before permission to start would be given in the UK."
The scientists - who include five Nobel prizewinners in medicine: Sir James Black, Sir Andrew Huxley, Sir Aaron Klug, Professor Cesar Milstein and Sir John Vane - blame the Home Office for taking an increasingly intransigent line on scientists wanting to conduct animal experiments. …