Since its inception over ten years ago, the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) has combined world class science with the principles of the 3Rs (replacement, reduction and refinement of animals in research), recognising that the two are intimately dependent on each other.
Monday night's NC3Rs 3Rs Prize, sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline, was no exception. There were two prize winners, from two completely different scientific fields, who both demonstrated how good science and the 3Rs go hand in hand.
Dr Madeline Lancaster won the award for her work developing 'cerebral organoids', the first 3D models of embryonic human brain produced from human stem cells, which could allow scientists to study brain development without using animals. Dr Laura Hall, working in collaboration with AstraZeneca, has improved a technique for giving drugs to dogs orally, which can greatly decrease the stress they suffer, whilst also increasing the efficiency of dosing.
Both these pieces of work have the potential to improve the research and development of new medicines by our industry. At present, animal research plays an essential role in producing new therapies. The body is just so complex that no computer or cell model can fully model it, so research in animals is vital to help us understand diseases and test new medicines.
Of course, no one wants to hurt an animal if it can possibly be avoided, and all scientists recognise that animal models have limitations. Developments in science, such as those showcased at the NC3R awards, are helping move the bioscience sector towards better welfare and better science, and, ultimately, a time when research on animals is no longer needed.
Such advances are not straightforward, however. How can we model the entire digestive system outside of an animal? How can we replicate the complexity of the 100 billion neurons in the human brain and all their connections? And how do we co-ordinate scientists across academia and industry to address these problems?
This is why the NC3Rs was established more than 10 years ago. With core funding from the Medical Research Council, Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the Home Office, it supports the scientific community to develop and apply the 3Rs.
This includes funding specific research projects, working with industry and regulators to evaluate regulatory models, and co-ordinating the promotion, sharing and dissemination of good practice, such as through the 3Rs Prize.
Our industry has been working in partnership with NC3Rs since its inception. The ABPI-NC3Rs collaboration is now in its eleventh year. Many companies also work closely with NC3Rs, for example by sharing data across industry, or through sponsoring CRACK IT challenges, which help tackle problems that no single company could solve on its own.
The 3Rs prize is an excellent reminder of the innovation in NC3Rs and the bioscience sector to replace and reduce the use of animals in research, and highlights the exciting prospects for further decreasing animal use in the future.
We look forward to continuing to work with NC3Rs as they move closer towards the goal that everyone wants: a time when innovative, safe and effective medicines are developed without the use of animals.