On 13 February 2022, Swiss citizens will be asked to vote on a popular initiative calling for a complete ban on all animal and human experimentation in Switzerland. The initiative also calls for a ban, from 2024, on all new drugs and medical treatments that have been tested on animals or humans, anywhere in the world. Universitą della Svizzera italiana (USI) and the Ente Ospedaliero Cantonale (EOC) recommend voters to reject this initiave (i.e. to vote NO), which would have serious consequences for the quality of research and patient care.
A ban on drugs and the serious consequences for the quality of healthcare
Should the initiative be approved by the majority of voters on February 13, patients in Switzerland would soon no longer have access to new drugs and medical treatments developed through experimental and clinical research involving animals, even when performed abroad, resulting in a significant loss in the quality, effectiveness and safety of healthcare. Also, our country would rapidly loose its leading role in disease treatments. The patients themselves, who would no longer be able to benefit from the best available treatments, would pay the price. A current example: if the initiative had already been in place when the Covid-19 pandemic broke out, the vaccine would not have been allowed in Switzerland, nor would various other drugs that have proved effective in treating it.
The vanguard Swiss legal framework on animal experimentation
Switzerland can count on comprehensive animal welfare legislation and very strict rules on scientific research involving animals. In Ticino, a cantonal animal experiments Commission examines each experiment before it is authorised, weighing the benefits of the study against the discomfort caused to the animals. The Commission recommends that the Cantonal veterinary office only accept a request when the benefits clearly outweigh the distress caused to the animals.
The 3R principle
USI is a member of the Swiss 3R Centre of Competence. The 3R principle (Replace, Reduce, Refine) requires that animal experiments only be approved if no alternative methods exist, if the number of animals involved in the experiments is limited to the minimum necessary and if the experimental methods and living conditions are as stress-free as possible. When these experiments are authorised, it means that there are no alternatives. At USI and the EOC these experiments are performed to fight serious diseases, for instance at the IRB Institute for Research in Biomedicine (coronavirus, influenza, Ebola), the IOR Institute of Oncology Research (lymphomas, prostate cancer), and at the EOC clinical research laboratories (heart attack, renal failure, gastrointestinal tumours, Parkinson’s, rare diseases).
Ticino is doing its part in foregoing animal experimentation
The number of animal experiments in Switzerland has been falling steadily since the 1980s, as the latest figures for 2020 confirm. A national research programme is currently looking into ways of further reducing the number of animal experiments, but it is not yet possible to do away with them completely. Ticino is also doing its part in terms of Replacing: several groups are actively involved in research projects aimed at replacing animal experiments with alternative cell culture systems (e.g. development and use of intestinal and tumour organoids, ’organs on a chip’, cartilage and in-vitro bones), and in-silico simulations offer promising prospects through interdisciplinary approaches (combined with computational science, e.g. the creation of anti-tumour drug molecules in-silico).
Experiments on humans: legal framework, benefits and responsibilities
One of the key objectives of the Federal Act on Research involving Human Beings is to "protect the dignity, privacy and health of human beings involved in research". This legislation, which is based on informed consent, ensures that in clinical research the interests of the individual take precedence over the interests of science and society. Before any clinical study can begin, it must be submitted to an ethics committee and, depending on the type of study, also to authorities such as Swissmedic, i.e. a group of independent experts - with no interest or benefits of any kind connected with the study - with a background not only in science but also in ethics, for example, who scrupulously assess every aspect of the study. Only after this committee’s approval can the study start. It is also increasingly being encouraged and demanded that patients or patient representatives be involved in the definition and design of a clinical study. Internationally, there is also the Declaration of Helsinki , which sets out the ethical principles for biomedical research involving human beings, and which Switzerland has also signed. The benefit of any study must be clear: the purpose of medical research involving human beings is to understand the causes, development and impact of diseases, as well as to improve their prevention, diagnosis and treatment in fields of clinical and scientific relevance.
The contribution of biomedical research performed in Ticino
Over the last few decades, the development of biomedical sciences in Ticino has gained important national and international recognition. The Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB) in Bellinzona has made important contributions to the understanding of infectious diseases and developed therapies against many potentially devastating viral infections, including coronavirus, influenza and Ebola. Basic and clinical research at the Oncology Institute of Southern Switzerland (IOSI Istituto di oncologia della Svizzera italiana) and the Institute of Oncology Research (IOR) in Bellinzona has helped turn lymphoma into a widely treatable disease and opened up new therapeutic perspectives for prostate cancer patients. Moreover, the new Faculty of Biomedical Sciences at USI aims to advance biomedical progress through scientific discovery and clinical translation. By rigorously complying with the high standards listed on this page, these institutes have created a life sciences research centre of national and international significance in Italian-speaking Switzerland.
A united scientific research community
The scientific community of researchers and universities in Switzerland is united in recommending that the initiative be rejected, as its adoption would have extreme and damaging consequences for research, healthcare treatment, competitiveness and the innovation potential in our country: