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Last Updated: Monday, 10 September 2007, 16:30 GMT 17:30 UK
Red tape 'strangling UK science'
By Rebecca Morelle
Science reporter, BBC News, York

Robert Winston (BBC)
Lord Winston is a past president of the British Association
Red tape is hampering UK animal research, a leading scientist claims.

Speaking at the BA Festival of Science, Lord Robert Winston said animal rights activists had forced the government to adopt an overly cautious position.

He said the bureaucracy was forcing UK research, including some of his own, abroad to the US.

The fertility expert criticised the government for taking 13 months to grant him a licence for research on transgenic pigs.

Through his spin out company Atazoa, Lord Winston is attempting to genetically modify the animals so that eventually their organs can be transplanted into humans.

But he said the length of time that the Home Office, which oversees all animal experimentation in the UK, took to grant him a licence was "not acceptable".

He needed the licence to inject new genes into the pigs' testes so as to alter the genomes of the animals' sperm stem cells.

Offspring derived from the modified sperm would be transgenic, he said, with changes to their organs' cells so that the human immune system would be fooled into accepting them as "human" when they transplanted.

'Intellectual drain'

He said: "We've had numerous problems with going ahead with this project, but perhaps one of the biggest problems has been the UK's regulatory framework."

He claimed the backdrop of intimidation and violence from animal rights activists had led Home Office to have an overly cautious position when granting licences, slowing research down.

He said: "I think the Home Office is increasingly nervous about what is perceived as public concern over animal experimentation.

"In my view, it has not been a well handled subject; for too long scientists have been intimidated by an aggressive and violent reaction by a relatively small number of people."

The research had faced further setbacks from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), he added, because under a European Directive the injected pigs were prevented from breeding to create the required transgenic offspring.

He said the UK and EU delays had forced him to take the project to the US.

If other researchers followed, he added, a potential loss of intellectual property for the UK could result.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: "Each application for a licence must be considered thoroughly in order to protect animal welfare.

"We currently respond to more than 85% of applications within 35 days, and we work closely with industry to improve the administration of licences."

Lord Winston made his comments here at BA Festival of Science. He is a past president of the organisation which works to promote UK science.

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