I’m not a scientist, and before I started working for Covance, the drug development business of Laboratory Corporation of America Holdings (LabCorp), I wasn’t aware of the extensive process and cost to develop a drug.
Covance offers a wide depth and breadth of drug development services, as well as work in assessing the efficacy and safety of drugs through both in-vitro models and animal research. We are proud of the tremendous progress we have made in implementing alternatives for animal research. Use of techniques such as micro-sampling has reduced the number of rodents for certain studies by as much as 75% and the number of mini-pigs used by 90%. Like many companies, we continuously enhance animal welfare by increased staff training, improving social housing and enrichment for animals or promoting the 3Rs through global internal awards, among other actions.
Despite our efforts and the seemingly common understanding among scientists and regulators that animal research is still necessary, we are challenged by animal rights activists and some concerned citizens seeking to ban animal research. A recent inquiry from the Dutch Minister for Agriculture regarding the feasibility of phasing out animal research may signal rising discomfort by governments with the testing that they themselves mandate and approve.
Directive 2010/63 is one of the most progressive and stringent frameworks to protect laboratory animals in the world. There will always be some people that oppose use of animals; but why are one million citizens and even governments that implement and enforce this strict legislation still questioning biomedical research? Is it public distrust of the biomedical industry, or the failure of the sector to communicate effectively the benefits and limitations of animal research for drug development for patients in Europe and around the globe?
Whatever the reasons, we have to accept two facts. First, as of today, despite great strides, our industry lacks validated alternatives for every aspect of the research necessary to safely develop the drugs upon which human beings—and the animals—depend. Second, societal values change. The use of animals, especially companion animals and primates, for drug development is increasingly under pressure to find alternatives so that it could be phased out.
I think it remains extremely important to raise public awareness about the role of animal research. Experience shows that many people change their views when they have more information. The European Animal Research Association (www.eara.org), funded through a sector wide initiative begun two years ago, is an important resource and driver to increase public understanding about animal research on a pan-European level.
The industry needs to continue its efforts in refining, reducing and replacing the use of animals in research. LabCorp recently joined an investor group to fund organ-on-a-chip technology of Emulate. While this technology has the potential to model the safety of drugs in the human body system (the reasons for animal testing), it is unlikely to happen soon because alternative tools will have to be carefully validated before regulators will accept them. Even now, however, we can begin to use these emerging technologies to augment existing pre-clinical models and, side-by-side with animal testing, generate human-relevant data to refine animal models. This approach could reduce the number of animal studies and the number of animals required per study. Similar efforts are taking place under the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) funded through EU Horizon 2020. These technologies and tools need to be shared efficiently across the sector.
In the past seven years, I have met many incredibly passionate scientists and I'm proud of the work we do for patients waiting for life-saving and life-enhancing medicines. Like others, I look forward to the day when this goal can be achieved without animal research. While we await that day, my company and I are committed to doing more to increase the public's understanding of animal research.
I'm looking forward to an open and constructive dialogue at the Scientific Conference about the advances we have made and the remaining obstacles.
Sabine Schneider Nash is Vice President Communication & Government Relations Europe/APAC at Laboratory Corporation of America Holdings (LabCorp).
Background: The European Commission will host a scientific conference on 'Non-Animal Approaches – the way forward' on 6-7 December in Brussels. The ABPI and many of our member companies, including Covance, will participate in the conference among over 400 scientists from across Europe. This should be an excellent opportunity to showcase the ongoing efforts of industry and academic scientists to replace, refine, and reduce the use of animals in research (the 3Rs), as well identify barriers and gaps in working towards the full replacement of animals longer term. We look forward to a dynamic discussion, and hope the event will produce concrete recommendations to help the scientific community accelerate the 3Rs even further.
This conference fulfils the Commission's commitment to 'engage the scientific community and relevant stakeholders in a debate on how to exploit the advances in science for the development of scientifically valid non-animal approaches and advance towards the goal of phasing out animal testing' following the European Citizens' Initiative Stop Vivisection in 2015. This was a petition submitted to the European Commission with signatures from over one million EU citizens opposing the current European regulation governing the use of animals in research. The ABPI, along with over 250 other organisations, has signed a statement in support of the Directive, which is one of the most progressive and robust frameworks worldwide for the protection of animals used in scientific research.