Imutran moves to Boston
Imutran, a British subsidiary of the giant Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis, has announced that it will be closing down its operation at Cambridge and merging with BioTransplant, Inc. in Boston, Massachusetts.
Imutran has been engaged in incorporating human genes into pigs and raising them as a source of organ transplants for humans. Its staff has been practicing by transplanting part-human pig hearts and kidneys into monkeys despite the fact that the results from these experiments would not be predictive for humans .
"Thousands of pigs, 424 cynomolgus monkeys and 49 wildcaught baboons were used," according to an article in the Daily Express 28 September, 2000. Despite glowing reports from Imutran, the Express revealed that leaked documents "showed that Imutran had exaggerated the success of its work at Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, and that the experiments involved horrific suffering. Our findings shocked animal rights campaigners, MP's and scientists, and led to calls for the research to be banned."
The longest surviving animal, a baboon who lived for 39 days following the transplant was not healthy as the company claimed. In fact, the transplanted heart had swelled to three-times its original size, according to the Express.
The Express also reported that two baboons who had died from hyperacute rejection (rapid rejection by the recipient's immune system) were simply excluded from the published study.
Dan Lyons, director of Uncaged Campaigns and author of Diaries of Despair, a report based on the leaked documents, suggested that Imutran's closure in the UK was related to an earlier article in the Express. "It is a shame that so many animals have had to suffer for so long and been destroyed in this pointless and cruel research programme," he said. "We are demanding an urgent independent Government inquiry into how this research could have gone ahead in the first place."
Imutran retaliated with a flurry of emails threatening to sue anyone who revealed the contents of the leaked documents which the company considered to be "commercially sensitive scientific data" and confidential property. A company spokesperson denied that the shut down and move were instigated by the disclosures in the leaked documents.
"The closure simply reflects Novartis' view of how the science can best be taken forward," a company spokesperson said.
The Express quoted Alix Fano, director of the New York-based Campaign for Responsible Transplantation and author of Lethal Laws (available from Civitas) who commented: "It's interesting that Novartis is moving its operations to the US where animal welfare and biotechnology regulations are either lax or non-existent, particularly at a time when the company is facing such intense scrutiny in Britain."
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