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Bioscience lecturer wins international award for work to tackle unnecessary animal testing

Published: 24 May 2024

  •   Featured
  •   Research
A scientist at work in a lab

Dr Owen Kavanagh

Dr Owen Kavanagh from York St John University is part of a group recognised by the Lush Prize 2024 for their work to end unneccesary animal testing. 

There is a growing belief within the scientific community that it is time to rethink the continued reliance on animal testing in biosciences and beyond. When a new drug is discovered, animal tests are used to predict how effective and safe it might be in humans. But animals are poor predictors of patient success with failure rates of drugs reportedly as high as 90%. In the past decade, nonanimal method technologies have emerged as a superior alternative to animal testing.  Despite many biomedical researchers still viewing animals as the “gold standard” the recent decision in the US to remove the legal requirement for animal testing of potential new medicines shows nonanimal methods (NAMs) are gaining attention. 

One barrier to NAM uptake of is a type of bias in scientific publishing called “animal methods bias”. This is where peer reviewers and editors request animal-based research data as a prerequisite for publication, despite validated NAMs being available. Researchers fear refusal of these requests can have a detrimental effect on their careers. 

Dr Owen Kavanagh, Senior Lecturer in Biomedical Science at York St John University, is a founding member of the group the “Coalition to Illuminate and Address Animal Methods Bias’ (COLAAB).  

The coalition have this week been awarded the prestigious international Lush Prize 2024 Major Science Collaboration Award in recognition of their work. The Lush Prize is the largest prize fund in the nonanimal testing sector and supports initiatives to end or replace animal testing. 

The partnership between COLAAB members is a shared commitment to moving away from animal testing wherever possible, with animal methods bias identified as a primary focus. The collaboration aims to shed light on the complexities of bias in animal research, a critical issue that has far-reaching implications for both scientific validity and animal welfare.  

The reasons for this broadly fall into three areas:  

  • Animal experiments are not a reliable indicator of patient outcomes. 
  • Animal-based data is subject to high variability.  
  • Animal experimentation is ethically problematic. 

The researchers are driven by a shared vision of transforming the scientific landscape and catalysing a shift towards more ethical, transparent, and humane research practices. By pooling their expertise, they aim to address the ethical dilemmas surrounding animal testing and advocate for methods that not only produce reliable results, but also prioritise the wellbeing of the animals involved.  

The first key objective of this work is the development of educational resources to raise awareness and mitigate animal methods bias in bioscience publishing. In 2023, the COLAAB developed the first of several mitigation strategies with the publication of an Author Guide for Addressing Animal Methods Bias in Publishing, alongside the development of an accompanying website. The Guide provides NAM researchers with a set of resources and advice on how to recognise and mitigate animal method bias throughout the scientific publishing process from study design to peer review decision. 

This year the COLAAB will prioritise exploring how animal methods bias influences funding decisions through collating concrete evidence and producing a similar Author Guide for Grant Applications. 

Dr Owen Kavanagh said: “Researchers worldwide are increasingly recognising the potential of nonanimal methods to replace animal testing. This collaboration signifies our collective dedication to promoting responsible research practices and fostering a culture of compassion within the scientific community. 

“We believe it’s time to put an end to the bias in favour of animal-based methods in research, as often non-animal methods are more suitable and ethical. This results in unnecessary barriers in nonanimal method researchers’ careers and sadly delays the release of new medicines that could already be helping public health.”  

Dr Catharine Krebs, Medical Research Programme Manager at the Physicians Committee and lead coordinator of the COLAAB, collected the Lush Prize at a ceremony in London. She said: “I’m so proud of this amazing team for taking the idea that nonanimal research doesn’t always get a fair shake and growing it into a globally recognised phenomenon.  

“We’re a growing organisation aiming for a global impact and it’s so helpful to connect with like-minded scientists around the world. Dr Kavanagh has been a key member of the COLAAB’s mitigation working group since its inception, helping to push the work forward and connect with more people who want to see animal welfare and scientific advancement go hand in hand.” 

The COLAAB team host regular online workshops, with updates on their progress in evidencing and mitigating animal method bias in scientific research. As part of this process, they are building a community around animal methods bias and are keen for more people to get involved. Find out more on their website  or email 

Watch the Lush Prize 2024 winners video 

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