CLSA in STAT News: A dispute over animal research

The following is an excerpt from the weekly Go West newsletter from STAT News regarding life science sector concerns with Assembly Bill 889. Click here to view the newsletter.

By Rebecca Robbins | STAT News
April 10, 2019

First up this week, I want to brief you on a legislative debate in Sacramento I’ve been watching over the past few days. The debate pitted animal rights activists against trade groups representing the state’s life sciences sector — and it raised big questions about whether expanded reporting requirements around animal research could endanger California scientists.

The dispute was centered around a bill, called AB889, which would have required more researchers to report more information about the tests they run on animals to the state’s public health department. It also would have put that information into a publicly searchable database.

The bill, touted as a transparency measure, was sponsored by two animal rights groups called the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and Social Compassion in Legislation; it also had the support of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA.

But trade groups representing drug makers and research institutions rallied against the legislation. Their argument was twofold: It would be costly and duplicative of existing reporting requirements. And information in the proposed database could leave scientists vulnerable to attack by extremist animal rights activists.

It’s a sensitive issue here for researchers, who still remember a chilling incident in 2008. Two University of California, Santa Cruz, scientists were targeted with firebombs after fliers fashioned like “wanted posters” circulated the names and home addresses of researchers running tests on animals. Researchers at UC Berkeley and UCLA were targeted around that time, too.

In the end, the industry’s opposition to AB889 appears to have worked. Yesterday, the state assemblyman who authored the bill pulled it from consideration because it didn’t look likely to have enough support to move forward.

The trade groups, though, aren’t letting their guard down against what they see as threats to researchers and the animal testing that remains essential to generating new medicines.

“Our opinion on this is that it’s a first step towards future legislation that will try to outright ban the use of animal testing in California,” Oliver Rocroi, the California Life Sciences Association’s vice president for state government relations, told me yesterday before the bill was pulled.

Click here to view the newsletter.