BEAVERTON, OR - On Saturday, June 16th, a group of activists from an assortment of animal rights groups congregated on Northwest 185th Avenue in front of the Oregon Regional Primate Research Center to protest the allocation of tobacco funds for the expansion of its research facilities and staff. From 11:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., the group waved at passing drivers as they honked in support of the demonstration. This action had been organized to raise awareness about the concerns revolving around the bill, and to demand that the taxpayer funded Center hold a public forum to address concerns revolving around experiments conducted at the center. The Research Center has, to date, refused every request for a public hearing to discuss the medical "accomplishments" that the Primate Research Center attribute to its animal testing program.
Biotechnology Opportunities: the Oregon Opportunity Program
Senate Bill 832 would create the Oregon Opportunity program, and provide 200 million dollars of Tobacco Settlement money which would allow the Research Center to "capitalize on biotechnology opportunities" on behalf of Oregonians.
Opponents of the bill say that it would not improve the quality of health care for many Oregonians; nor would the tobacco funds that were awarded to the State of Oregon in 1998 be used for any kind of tobacco prevention programs. Instead, raising the amount of funds available for research would only raise the costs of general health services. Oregon voters had already refused a similar request in November 2000 to grant OHSU 10 million dollars in tobacco funds; Ballot Measure 89 had been defeated by 57 percent.
The goal of the Senate Bill 832 is to "seize upon the opportunity to provide all Oregonians access to leading edge therapies and procedures", as well as to "usher in a new era of breakthroughs in health care and biotechnology for Oregonians". However, the bill does not ever directly address the management or methods of health care for Oregonians. Instead, the bill focuses on the aim of the state legislature to "support OHSU in its efforts to continue to grow as a research power and an economic engine", and "to assist OHSU in securing the needed infrastructure to attain a critical mass of research talent". In other words, the money would provide an initial investment so that the Research Center can recruit more researchers to create the intellectual property that would then be sold to pharmaceutical companies and other clients in the biotechnology field.
The field of biotechnology has proven to be quite a lucrative business for the Research Center: monkeys are bred and sold from the center to other research facilities across the country; one rhesus macaque could be sold for over $ 3000. The studies conducted at the Research Center generate profitable scientific conclusions, or "intellectual property" that serves as the "raw material" for biotechnology companies. Hoffman LaRoche, whose sales of clinical drugs in the United States alone range in the billions of dollars, spends approximately one billion dollars on research every year; such pharmaceutical companies dedicate tremendous amounts of money every year to animal experimentation. Other companies, such as medical supply providers, also reap high profits from their business dealings with Research Facilities such as ORPRC. Whether it is the equipment used in the experiments, or the genetically altered lab mice that are provided as subjects for experiments, all stages of biotechnology prove to be extremely profitable.
Oregon Regional Primate Research Center
The Primate Research Center opened in 1962, and is funded annually by the National Institute for Health. The millions of tax dollars that are funneled from the NIH are redirected to non-human based experiments. The Center received nationwide attention in January of 2000 when they split an early stage embryo to produce a cloned monkey. In January 2001, the Center produced a primate named Andi ("Inserted DNA" spelled backwards) whose cells had been injected with a jellyfish gene. It is not yet known what practical medical applications or advancements were discovered by these experiments.
In August 2000, Matt Rossell, a former employee of the Center, held a press conference in which he accused the Center of not adhering to the requirements of the Animal Welfare Act. Shortly after the press conference, the Center hired Carol Shively, a professor of pathology and psychology at the Wake Forest University medical center to investigate Rossell's claims. She issued a report that confirmed the need to improve upon the care for the psychological well being of monkeys housed at the Research Center, as well as the inhumane nature of the electro-ejaculation methods used to collect sperm samples. The USDA recently criticized the Center for causing undue stress to its laboratory animals, as well as housing its 1200 monkeys in separate cages; experts say that such isolation is psychologically devastating to the mental well being of the monkeys and could lead to abnormal reactions such as self-mutilation and anti-social behavior.
Critics of the bill are hoping that provisions will be added to the bill to audit the center annually to ensure that the funds are protected from financial waste and scientific fraud. An amendment to the bill would achieve this by creating a public oversight committee that would ensure accountability at the center.