Clinical impact of high-profile animal-based research reported in the UK national press

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Objectives We evaluated animal-based biomedical ‘breakthroughs’ reported in the UK national press in 1995 (25 years prior to the conclusion of this study). Based on evidence of overspeculative reporting of biomedical research in other areas (eg, press releases and scientific papers), we specifically examined animal research in the media, asking, ‘In a given year, what proportion of animal research “breakthroughs”’ published in the UK national press had translated, more than 20 years later, to approved interventions?’

Methods We searched the Nexis media database (LexisNexis.com) for animal-based biomedical reports in the UK national press. The only restrictions were that the intervention should be specific, such as a named drug, gene, biomedical pathway, to facilitate follow-up, and that there should be claims of some clinical promise.

Main outcome measures Were any interventions approved for human use? If so, when and by which agency? If not, why, and how far did development proceed? Were any other, directly related interventions approved? Did any of the reports overstate human relevance?

Results Overspeculation and exaggeration of human relevance was evident in all the articles examined. Of 27 unique published ‘breakthroughs’, only one had clearly resulted in human benefit. Twenty were classified as failures, three were inconclusive and three were partially successful.

Conclusions The results of animal-based preclinical research studies are commonly overstated in media reports, to prematurely imply often-imminent ‘breakthroughs’ relevant to human medicine.


Main paper and supplementary data and analysis.

Bailey&Balls_Supplement_1_Clinical_Impact_2020.pdf (1070 kB)
Supplementary data/results.