Research with non-human primates is set to continue after a report concluded it was generally of good quality – but concerns have been raised that a small proportion of studies have no clear benefit.

Dubbed the Bateson Review, named after Professor Sir Patrick Bateson who chaired the review panel, it found that the large amount of research involving non-human primates “was generally of good quality and was highly cited”, with some work of “outstanding quality”.

The review was jointly commissioned and funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, Medical Research Council, and Wellcome Trust. It was conducted to assess the quality and impact of research using non-human primates over the past decade and comes after a 2006 recommendation by Sir David Weatherall to review this area.

While the findings suggest the majority of research done is worthy, there were some serious research concerns that the review identified. 

The panel noted that the identification and tracing of benefit was difficult in most cases, with approximately 9% of research programmes having no clear scientific, medical or social benefit. The review highlighted the importance of deriving maximum benefit from the research.

“We have a track record of ensuring the results of our research are translated into patient and public benefit,” said Sir John Savill, chief executive of the MRC. “We realise this responsibility is particularly important when research uses animals. Benefits have emerged from the majority of the studies analysed in the Bateson review and we would anticipate more in the fullness of time. This reflects the lengthy nature of scientific enquiry, which requires time between the completion of research and tangible rewards to become obvious.”

Another concern in some instances related to failures to publish results, whether positive or negative, and the effectiveness of mechanisms employed for knowledge and technology transfer. The panel also noted that attention was needed regarding skills base and training of research teams.

However, the review also recognised that the past decade had seen improvements in the standard of animal welfare and husbandry, and new techniques had obviated the need for use of non-human primates in certain experiments.

“As funders we are all committed to the replacement, reduction and refinement of the use of animals in research,” said Professor Douglas Kell, chief executive of the BBSRC. “We always work according to these principles and there has been much progress over the past decade. Where it is still not yet possible to replace non-human primates in research with other approaches, we are dedicated to ensuring that all the research we fund is conducted to the highest standards of welfare and good husbandry.”

The review made 15 recommendations, including: the need for “rigorous review of the scientific value of the research” and medical benefit; consideration of potential alternative research subjects, including humans; measures to facilitate knowledge transfer; the Home Office should review its performance with regard to the operation of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act to ensure there are no delays or obstacles to NHP research; review the risks and high costs of this research in the UK, which are often seen as a barrier to studies; a culture of routine output reporting should be developed; and further reviews should be carried out periodically.