Eli Lilly’s Mouse Abuse Faced PETA Heat at Annual Meeting

For Immediate Release:
May 3, 2021

Tasgola Bruner 202-483-7382


A PETA scientist attended Eli Lilly’s virtual annual meeting today to grill the company about its continued use of the widely criticized forced swim test on mice and other small animals. PETA owns just enough stock in the company to participate as a shareholder. The group’s full question follows:

How does Eli Lilly defend its position on the forced swim test, considering that it is not even reliable for Prozac and that its previous use by our company has not led to any marketable drugs, according to published papers? Why do you insist on “keeping options open”? It’s like insisting on keeping open the option of bloodletting to treat a sore throat.

In the forced swim test, animals are often dosed with a test substance, placed in inescapable beakers of water, and forced to swim to keep from drowning. At some point, they stop swimming and start floating. Experimenters compare the amount of time swimming and floating, purportedly to shed light on human depression and to screen antidepressant drugs. Yet the test has been heavily criticized by scientists who argue that floating is not a sign of depression or despair, as some claim, but rather a positive indicator of learning, saving energy, and adapting to a new environment. The experiment is about as predictive as a coin toss and causes hundreds of mice terror and distress.

“Other big pharmaceutical companies have accepted that the forced swim test doesn’t hold water,” says PETA neuroscientist Dr. Emily Trunnell. “PETA is calling on Eli Lilly to join them in banning the test and to stop looking to terrified, soaked mice to cure human depression.”

Between 1993 and 2019, Eli Lilly employees published at least 20 papers and submitted at least 11 patent applications describing the use of the forced swim test in experiments involving more than 3,400 mice and rats. Yet the test didn’t reliably predict the success of a single medication. Eli Lilly’s one successful antidepressant that’s known to help humans, Prozac, doesn’t yield consistent results in the forced swim test.

Since November 2018, PETA and more than 325,000 members of the public have contacted Eli Lilly to request a formal policy banning the use, funding, and commissioning of the test. (See this video.) Bayer, AstraZeneca, Novo Nordisk A/S, Johnson & Johnson, AbbVie, Roche, Boehringer Ingelheim, Pfizer, Bristol Myers Squibb, Sage Therapeutics, and other pharmaceutical companies all banned it after hearing from PETA.

PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to experiment on”—opposes speciesism, a human-supremacist worldview, and supports the use of scientifically and ethically sound testing methods that protect animals, humans, and the environment. For more information, please visit PETA.org; follow the group on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram; or click here.

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