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11 March 2001 Issue
Transplanting the Truth

by Jill Howard Church, Senior Editor Animals' Agenda
Email: jillohc@aol.com 

A September 26 High Court injunction in Great Britain has stanched the flow of information regarding a case hailed as "the Watergate of the biotechnology industry" -- leaked documents purporting to show that the xenotransplantation research conducted by Imutran Ltd. is both cruel and misleading. An expose published in the Daily Express Sept. 21-22, 2000, detailed how Imutran -- owned by the Swiss-based pharmaceutical giant Novartis -- carried out hundreds of experiments involving pig-to-primate
organ transplants over the past five years. The information contained in hundreds of internal reports, memos, and other documents leaked to the U.K. activist group Uncaged Campaigns (UC) by an anonymous source showed how Imutran's public claims of research "progress" and humane animal care contrasted sharply with its own accounts of animal suffering and scientific fiascoes.

Stated the Express, "Imutran says the animals do not suffer. But the laboratory technicians' own detailed records of the animals post-transplant lives paint a different picture. One monkey which had a pig heart attached to the blood vessels in its neck was seen holding the transplant which was 'swollen red' and 'seeping yellow fluid' for most of the last days of its life. Animals are described as quiet, huddled, shivering, unsteady and in spasm. Some had swellings, bruising or were seen with blood or puss seeping from wounds."

The Express also reported that Imutran's claims of being close to human xenotransplant trials are based on selective reporting of the degree to which the baboons' bodies rejected transplanted pig hearts. Imutran data allegedly showed that "hyperacute rejection" of pig organs was more problematic than the company publicly acknowledged. Other allegations involved high death rates due to drug overdoses, procedural errors, and the intercontinental transport of wild-caught monkeys.

The September injunction temporarily halted dissemination of confidential information contained in the leaked documents, except for those portions already published in the Daily Express. The injunction will stand until a full hearing is held, which is scheduled for late November. Uncaged Campaigns was forced to pull its report "Diaries of Deception" from its web site (www.xenodiaries.org), but the group is appealing the ruling. Said UC Director Dan Lyons, "Freedom of information about animal experimentation is one of the cornerstones of democratic debate. It would have been more constructive for Imutran/Novartis to engage in that debate, rather than attempt to suppress it."

Britain's Home Office, which regulates experimentation, is reviewing the case; UC is calling for a judicial inquiry. Meanwhile, Novartis announced on the day of the injunction that it was closing Imutran and merging with Massachusetts-based Biotransplant, Inc., which will shift the bulk of the xenotransplantation research to the United States. Its pig-to-primate experiments are already being done at the University of Ohio, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Wisconsin, Stanford University, and Massachusetts General Hospital, with support and funding from the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Health and Human Services.

"Novartis basically wants to continue doing in the U.S. what it was doing in Britain, and get away with it," noted Alix Fano, director of the Campaign for Responsible Transplantation. "That is unacceptable. The U.S. should not become a haven for cruel, wasteful, and irresponsible research, particularly when better alternatives exist."

“Reprinted with permission from The Animals’ Agenda, P.O. Box 25881,
Baltimore, MD 21224; (410) 675-4566; www.animalsagenda.org.”
Email: office@animalsagenda.org

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