Over 500 scientist and doctors, including Nobel Prize winners, have signed a declaration in favour of animal research, which has been drawn up by the Research Defence Society. The move follows the announcement earlier this week that Darley Oaks guinea pig farm in the UK, which has suffered at the hands of animal rights extremists, will close at the end of the year. In a statement, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry said: “The principal members of the Hall family are nearing retirement and the long and sustained campaign of intimidation by animal rights extremists has led to this ‘regrettable but understandable’ decision.”

Guinea pigs have been vital in research, particularly in respiratory diseases such as asthma, and have led to real breakthroughs in the development of new medicines.

Said Dr Philip Wright, the ABPI's Director of Science and Technology: “The activities of a few animal rights extremists have placed impossible pressure on those going about their legitimate business. While animal rights extremists are likely to be only one factor in the final decision, it does underline the need for greater protection of those individuals and companies targeted and committed long-term resources from the Government to back up the recently-introduced legislation." He said the closure of Darley Oaks would make it less likely that investment in such research will be made in the UK.

The Hall family, their employees and suppliers reportedly suffered a range of attacks, including vandalism and death threats. Perhaps most disturbingly a report in the Financial Times says activists last year dug up the remains of Gladys Hammond – the co-owner’s mother in law – and have yet to return them.

The RDS declaration states: “Throughout the world people enjoy a better quality of life because of advances made possible through medical research, and the development of new medicines and other treatments. A small but vital part of that work involves the use of animals.”