The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry and the Biosciences Federation have come up with a plan to encourage students to become skilled in in vivo research techniques, to help turn around the dwindling number of UK scientists expert in animal research.

A joint report released by the groups this week calls for action to boost student interest in developing such skills as well as offer employer-focused post-graduate degrees to help the UK “maintain its leadership in medicines discovery and development”, as well as ensure continued progress in “reducing, refining and replacing animals” in R&D.

“The future of medicines development in this country depends to a large

extent on having people with the right in vivo skills,” explained Dr Richard Barker, director-general of the ABPI. “We all need to work in partnership so that the UK can retain its historical strengths in this area,” he added.

According to the report, while employer demand for such skills has been stable over the past 10 years, supply has declined, and three-quarters of relevant employers are finding it “difficult” or “very difficult” to find suitably qualified staff.

Action plan

To help boost the number of scientists skilled in this area of research, the report recommends: increasing the number of employer placements with in vivo work by at least 50%; fully funding 36 MSc places over the next three years to provide exposure to in vivo techniques; raising the number of PhDs that use in vivo techniques; and that sub-disciplines that include in vivo techniques, such as pharmacology, physiology, toxicology and pathology, be categorised as ‘Strategically Important and Vulnerable Subjects’, a formal government classification recognising their importance to the economy and society but also their vulnerability because of low student demand.

But, said Dr Richard Dyer, Chief Executive of the Biosciences Federation: “As well as creating a targeted package of employer-led action to support existing initiatives, the underlying factors behind the decline in numbers need to be tackled.” He says that long-term success is dependent on the scientific community recognising that in vivo techniques “are not just an optional ‘add-on’ at the end of a scientific process”.