Last month the NIH said it will retire the majority of the chimpanzees it uses in preclinical research, having accepted the findings of a 2011 Institute of Medicine (IOM) report that deemed most current biomedical use of chimpanzees as "unnecessary."
While the plan will be welcomed by animal rights groups, it is not an indication preclinical drug research involving non-human primates is unnecessary according contract research organisations (CROs) contacted by Outsourcing-pharma.com.
Mark Crane of preclinical CRO SNBL USA – which uses non-human primates but not chimpanzees in drug research – told us that “currently the best models we have to assure human safety require some animal testing and a small percentage of that testing must be done in non-human primates.”
Similarly, Melissa Thompson from Covance – which also does not use chimpanzees in research – said the firm believes “that we are not yet at a point where we can entirely eliminate the use of chimpanzees in medical research.”
This opinion matches the 2011 IOM report, which stopped short of recommending an outright ban on the basis that their genetic similarity to humans makes chimpanzees the most accurate models, despite recent advances in alternative research tools.
For example, the report cited the use of chimpanzees in research and development of monoclonal antibodies and a vaccine for Hepatitis C was still a necessity.
The 300 NIH chimpanzees are set to join 150 others already in the Federal Sanctuary System, operated by Chimp Haven.
The 3 Rs
However, while the CROs we asked say non-human primate research is necessary, both stressed that they are continually seeking and assessing other opitons.
Melissa Thompson from Covance told us the firm uses alternative processes to animal testing where possible, and “actively and continuously explores and develops new techniques to further replace or reduce the use of animals in medical research.”
Mark Crane also said that SNBL would not use animals if it was possible to gather the safety data required in another way, and, as an example, added “many tests that previously required animals are now replaced with in vitro type assays.”
Furthermore, both firms spoke of the commitment taken by all preclinical research companies to ensure good scientific and ethical practices: the ‘three R concept’ - Replace, Reduce, Refine.
Crane explained: “We replace animal testing with in-vitro (in test tube) or other methods whenever possible. We reduce the number of animals used to lowest possible and reuse animals whenever appropriate. We refine our testing to provide the best data with the least discomfort to the fewest animals.”