EU approves alternatives to animal testing of drugs

By Wai Lang Chu

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Immune system European union

The European Union has approved new alternatives to animal testing
of drugs and chemicals, which will not only reduce the number of
animals needed for testing, but will also increase the accuracy of
the tests, thereby making the products concerned safer.

The move aims to cut down on the number of animals used for laboratory testing and silence growing voices from anti-vivisectionists who believe alternatives to animal testing are viable and just as effective.

The Scientific Advisory Committee of the European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods (ECVAM) has approved six new alternative testing methods that will reduce the need for certain drugs and chemicals to be tested on animals.

The new tests use cell cultures rather than animals to establish the toxicity of cancer drugs and identify contaminated drugs.

The role of ECVAM, which is based at the European Commission's Joint Research Centre, is to replace, refine and reduce methods of animal testing for cosmetics, drugs and chemicals.

Its Scientific Advisory Committee, composed of representatives of the 25 member states, academia, industry and animal welfare organisations before they can be used in labs across Europe, must approve tests validated by ECVAM.

One of the tests is designed to assist the dosage of some highly toxic drugs used in chemotherapy for cancer, a disease that causes almost a million deaths in the EU every year.

Using bone marrow culture from mice and cord blood cells from humans, a test has been developed that will decrease the risk of a lethal overdose in the first cohort of patients to which they are administered, a risk that cannot be identified during current preclinical testing strategies.

International studies have shown that this new test can provide more accurate predictions than testing on animals, so the new method will not only reduce the number of animals needed, but also increase the safety of patients.

Five of the new tests address the issue of bacteria. Our immune system is designed to guard us against bacteria. However it cannot distinguish between live and dead bacteria, and will react also against dead bacteria or part of them.

A drug may be sterilised, but not necessarily free from all traces of bacteria and this can lead to side-effects such as fever, pain and shock. 200,000 rabbits are used every year to test the drugs before they are put on the market.

The new method uses human immune cells grown in the laboratory, which can detect bacteria just as the human immune system does.

This test will not only reduce the number of animals used in labs, but also the costs of testing. An added bonus is that these new tests are far more effective in finding contaminated drugs than the previous animal tests.

Related topics Preclinical Research

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