TEENAGE campaigner Laurie Pycroft says that without animal research hundreds of people testing new medicine would be putting their lives in danger.

His claims come after six men became gravely ill after taking part in a drugs trial at Northwick Park Hospital in north west London.

And the 16-year-old from Swindon says he has now received thousands of messages of support from the public and scientists supporting his stand against animal rights activists.

One heartfelt message came from a man suffering from Parkinson's disease who told Laurie he would not be able to type the email if it was not for animal testing.

He told him the drugs he takes to control his condition and give him a better quality of life had been tested on animals.

"What happened goes to show that the only reason it was such a big story was because it was so rare," said Laurie.

"Without animal research people in drug trials would regularly become ill.

"It would be a weekly occurrence without animal testing because it is the only way to find out how people will react to the medicine."

Laurie is the founder of Pro-test, a group in favour of building a new animal research facility at Oxford University.

As we reported he took to the streets of Oxford with about 800 supporters of the cause in a peaceful protest at the end of February.

"We are getting more and more support all the time," he said.

"We have had thousands of emails and I think the only continent that has not been included is Antarctica.

"I've had people walk up to me in the street and say they are supporting me, and many scientists have said they are pleased we are publicly supporting animal testing."

The teenager, who wants to become a doctor, got involved in the arguments surrounding the use of animals in medical testing after seeing a demonstration by a group which opposes the building of the controversial £18m facility in Oxford.

He hoped the protest would open the floodgates for dozens more people to stand up and show their support.

"It's been brilliant really," said Laurie.

"In the past people and universities have kept quiet about the work they are doing but now more and more scientists and researchers are standing up and want to be counted, which is a really important and significant development.

"I think we have started something really great here."

But there is a negative side to Laurie's quest he has received about 30 death threats.

In spite of this he is now hoping to take his demonstrations across the country and further afield too.

"I have been to London a few times now and I am going to Florida to take part in a television programme, which is great," he said.

Two still critical, while others are improving

THE condition of the four men left seriously ill when a drugs trial went disastrously wrong is continuing to improve after almost a week in intensive care, their doctors have said.

Three of the four have now been removed from organ support, Dr Ganesh Suntharalingam, clinical director of intensive care at Northwick Park Hospital, said.

But two other patients remain critical, and despite some early signs of improvement it is still too early to comment on their prognosis, Dr Suntharalingam said.

He said there was no medical basis for reports that one of the men may remain in a coma for up to 12 months.

A relative of Ryan Wilson, one of two most severely affected by the drug, had earlier said they had been told he could be in a coma for six months to a year.

"We are continuing to make advances with treating the four seriously ill patients, and we are encouraged by their progress and recovery to date,'' said Dr Suntharlingam.

The six men had volunteered to test medication, developed by German firm TeGenero, which was designed to treat multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and leukaemia.

When given the drug the men "went down like dominoes", vomiting, screaming in pain and breaking out in fevers, according to one witness who was given a placebo in the tests.

The medical research company responsible for the drug trial, Parexel, has insisted it followed correct procedures.