UKRI policy on research and innovation involving animals

Policy will improve protections for animals and research reproducibility while better supporting researchers whose work involves animals.

As a non-departmental public body and responsible funder, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) must ensure our activities are aligned with UK legislation and other guiding principles of ethical research practice.

Harmonising across UKRI

In July last year, the UKRI statement on research and innovation involving animals was published, harmonising expectations across UKRI for the involvement of animals in research and innovation.

This new policy sets out new requirements for all those taking part in UKRI funding activities involving animals, to ensure the commitments within the statement are met.

The National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) supported the writing of the policy and statement, alongside:

  • Medical Research Council (MRC)
  • Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)

MRC and BBSRC are the councils that fund the most research involving animals.

Key principles

The new policy and statement are driven by the principles of the 3Rs (replacement, reduction and refinement of the use of animals in research).

This provides a framework for humane and high-quality research and innovation.

Other key principles include:

  • UKRI will only fund animal research if no scientifically acceptable non-animal alternatives exist
  • UKRI expects all research and innovation activities involving animals to be performed in compliance with the current legislation, according to best practice and up to date guidance
  • UKRI expects and supports the provision of excellent care and welfare standards for animals used in research and innovation
  • UKRI expects that funded activities take account of UK societal values and considers animal welfare implications of research and innovation

Wider remit

The policy covers a broader range of research and innovation supported by UKRI, to now also include involvement of animals not covered by the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act, 1986.

This will bring enhanced consideration of animal welfare, the 3Rs and research design to a wider range of applications, such as observations on free-living animals, and farmed animal research.

The policy aligns expectations across UKRI which will support cross-council collaboration and ensure equivalence across funding opportunities and disciplines.

All seven councils plus Research England and Innovate UK, and all cross-council funding opportunities will adopt the policy.

The full policy and statement can be found alongside a range of additional guidance on the good research resource hub: involving animals in research.

Streamlined interaction for applicants

The interaction between the applicant and the funding system will be streamlined through an introduction of a structured question set, where only relevant questions will be asked.

Alignment across the whole of UKRI, and with other places where researchers will be asked these questions (such as the ARRIVE guidelines), will support the drive to reduce bureaucracy.

Taking on recommendations from the Rawle report, applicants will be asked for more information on replacement considerations.

This will make best use of our highly experienced peer reviewing community, allowing them to provide a view on appropriateness of the animal models proposed.

Expectations for applicants

Applicants will be required to:

  • consider the potential involvement of animals at the early stages of planning their proposals
  • at the point of application, answer questions about why and how the use animals of animals is intended, which will be subject to peer review
  • where appropriate, provide sufficient information to demonstrate that any experimental design is robust and will lead to reproducible research
  • consider the inclusion of opportunities to use, develop, validate, and disseminate both the 3Rs methodologies and best welfare practices
  • seek opportunities to carry out engagement under the principles of openness in animal research

This will provide additional confidence that the involvement of animals is scientifically acceptable and support activities toward transparency and clear public communication about the involvement of animals in research.

Expectations for assessors

Expert peer review has a key role to play in driving the 3Rs.

Reviewers and panel members will be required to:

  • consider responses to animal review questions provided by applicants and identify any unresolved questions
  • consider opportunities for the 3Rs
  • ask further questions about involvement of animals if there isn’t enough information in the application

Animal involvement overseas

UKRI funds research and innovation outside the UK that involves animals, including as part of international collaborations.

When this happens, UKRI requires funded individuals and organisations to establish and demonstrate that the welfare standards are no less stringent than those required in the UK and meet local expectations.

This will reduce the risk of UK tax-payer’s money funding practices that would be considered unacceptable in the UK and will also ensure that all collaborating nations’ regulations are taken into account.

Transparency and communication

The statement will also support UKRI’s commitment, as signatory to the Concordat on Openness in Animal Research, to transparency and clear public communication about the involvement of animals in research.

Research integrity

The policy, together with the statement, will support research integrity and reproducibility, best practice and a consistent approach throughout the research and innovation activities funded by UKRI.

The policy provides additional support for research integrity and research reproducibility through, for example, explicit consideration of experimental design (where appropriate) and encouragement for publication of methodologies and negative results.

Next steps

The new questions will be integrated into the developing functionality of the UKRI Funding Service, as part of the Simpler and Better Funding programme.

We will share specific updates on the timeline for this as soon as possible.

Guidance for applicants on the new requirements will be available before the new questions are launched.

An interim period will allow applicants to adapt to the new policy.

A monitoring and evaluation strategy will regularly review the functionality and effectiveness of the new policy and will be developed between BBSRC, MRC and the Funding Service.

Contact us

If you have any questions about the policy or position statement, we would like to hear from you.

Please contact us at

Further information

NC3Rs provide an overview of the 3Rs principles, and why it is important that the scientific community considers them when planning and carrying out work that uses animals in research.

The Rawle report is an independent report that assessed the 3Rs landscape, making recommendations to support implementation across the academic community.

Top image:  Credit: sturti, E+ via Getty Images

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