Some 72 drugmakers, charities, universities and medical societies have signed a pledge to be more open and transparent about the use of animals in research in the UK.

The signatories, which include GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer, AstraZeneca, UCB and Eli Lilly as well as the likes of the Wellcome Trust and the Medical Research Council, have put pen to paper for the Concordat on Openness in Animal Research. The document includes pledges about transparency concerning when, how and why animals are used and efforts to reduce animal usage and minimise suffering and harm.

Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, said that "almost all of the most important advances in medicine have relied on information gained from animal experiments, and this field of research remains critical to driving the improvements in human and animal health which our funding seeks to support". However, he added that "like all research, animal experiments should proceed with the consent of society, and that requires openness about how and why they take place".

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry has also signed up to the Concordat and Louise Leong, its director of R&D policy, said that "if we are going to truly change the perception and public opinion on animal research we need to be able to show its benefits and to educate and inform". She added that "without vital research using animals, there are many diseases - such as epilepsy and diabetes - which could not be managed the way they are today".

Concordat is PR move: BUAV

However, the Concordat did not impress Michelle Thew, chief executive of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection. She said the group has campaigned for greater transparency for many years "and welcomes any steps towards genuine openness. We are concerned, however, that genuine transparency is not what the Concordat delivers".

Ms Thew claimed that the Concordant offers an explanation of the need for animal research "and ways in which institutions can explain their involvement, yet is silent on the more significant [UK] Government consultation process which could finally remove the blanket secrecy that currently operates".

She concluded by noting that the signatories "are perfectly entitled to roll out a public relations strategy explaining their support for animal research. What they should not do is tell the public that this is the same thing as genuine transparency".