A REPORT backing the use of monkeys in academic research was welcomed by Oxford University.

The study into the use of non-human primates in research was chaired by Oxford geneticist and Professor of Medicine Sir David Weatherall and found a "strong scientific case" for allowing certain experiments on non-human primates.

But animal welfare organisations condemned the 18-month inquiry as a wasted opportunity.

Each year, about 3,300 monkeys are involved in scientific or medical research in the UK - about 0.1 per cent of all the animals used. Three-quarters of these animals are used for testing the safety of new medicines.

Only about 450 are involved in academic research by scientists at universities and other institutions. It was this aspect of primate research that was examined by the expert group led by Sir David Weatherall.

Monkey research was vital for the pre-testing of vaccines designed to tackle HIV and other major infectious diseases, such as malaria and tuberculosis, said the experts.

The report said: "There is a strong scientific case for maintaining work on non-human primates for carefully selected research problems in many of the areas studied, at least for the foreseeable future."

A spokesman for Oxford University said: "We are unable to comment in detail until we have had an opportunity to study and reflect upon the report.

"However, in general we believe that such studies should be welcomed by those on all sides of the debate about the use of non-human primates in research.

"Continual review of feasible ways to reduce, refine and replace primates are key principles of Oxford animal research policy, and we are pleased that this approach is endorsed by the report while acknowledging the scientific and moral case for the strictly regulated use of primates in scientific research.' Michelle Thew, chief executive of the the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, said the report was a whitewash, adding: "The remit was very narrow, and they didn't look at pharmacological safety testing."