EU cosmetics firms back plan to stop animal tests

Posted on 8 December 2010

Major drug and cosmetics companies have backed a plan to eliminate animal testing in favour of more humane approaches.

Experts from companies including drug giants AstraZeneca, Procter & Gamble, Unilever and cosmetics firm L’Oreal endorsed a Europe-wide initiative described as a road-map towards ending the use of animals in research and safety testing.

In a report to be published this week, they will say the future of safety testing of new drugs and chemical products lies in new technologies that use cell cultures and computer models rather than living animals.

Opponents of vivisection have long argued that animals are poor models for testing drugs and products that will be used by humans as their biology is often different.

Scientists insist animals provide an important step to ensure the safety and efficacy of new drugs before they are given to humans for the first time.

The report, which is to be published by a panel of experts from industry, academic institutions and regulatory bodies, provides backing for an initiative aimed at finding alternatives to animal research called AXLR8.

In the report, the panel states: “Today we are at a new biological milestone, where we could – with sufficient international and political support … produce the means and the technology to test and assess the human and environmental risk of tens of thousands of chemicals per year without using animals.”

The report puts the case for a range of new technology and approaches that provide alternatives to using animals.

Other methods include the use of embryonic stem cells to create heart tissue that can be used for drug testing, robotic screening of drugs and computer programs that can predict the effect of a drug in the body.

More than 3.6 million tests were carried out on animals in Britain last year and there has been growing concern from within the scientific community at the number of animal research studies that are never published due to unimportant results or poor experimental design.

The report states testing a single chemical takes up to 5 years, involves 800 rodents and costs £2.5 million while robotic alternatives could test 350 chemicals in under a week and for a fraction of the cost.

Troy Seidle, director of research for Humane Society International and associate coordinator of the AXLR8 initiative, said: “Endorsement from cross-sector, independent experts provides a tremendous boost to EU and international efforts to revolutionise the science of safety testing.

“This is the first step towards a road map that will see the phasing out the use of animals in safety testing.

“The fact that industry is prepared to come to the table to meet with regulators and say they are prepared to do development, invest resources and change the way we do things shows this is a real possibility that is not just pie in the sky.

“The change won’t happen instantly but this is a good first step.”

The AXLR8 initiative is funded by the European Commission to identify areas of research and monitor progress to replace, reduce and refine the use of animals in toxicology testing.

Over the past 20 years, the European Commission has invested around Euro 150 million trying to achieve this.

L’Oreal is already using Episkin, cultures of human skin grown from stem cells that can be used for product testing and toxicology tests.

A spokesman for Procter & Gamble said reducing animal testing in product safety research was a central goal for the company.

She said: “At P&G we are pleased to state that we are at the forefront in efforts to eliminate animal testing in product safety research. We complete more than 99 per cent of all safety evaluations without testing on animals.”

By Richard Gray, Science Correspondent, 27 Nov 2010

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