How Europe intends to meet increased demand for alternatives to animal testing

June 25, 2004

M.3409 - TPG GROUP / FRANCISCO PARTNERS / SMART JV - Art. 6(1)(b) - public text of decision available memory and comms products | it | us M.3348 - FORTIS / SG / SECFINEX JV - Art. 6(1)(b) - public text of decision available electronic securities markets | it | uk , dutch , france How Europe intends to meet increased demand for alternatives to animal testing

Brussels, 24 Jun 2004

With new EU regulations coming into force on both the testing of chemicals and cosmetics, the demand for alternatives to animal experiments has escalated. The European Commission is committed to a reduction in animal testing, as evidenced by its investment in this area. But still more could be done, say both EU Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin and a number of scientists.

In light of the two new regulations affecting animal testing - one of which will require additional tests on chemicals, the other of which requires cosmetics manufacturers to reduce and eventually stop testing ingredients on animals - a briefing was held in Brussels on 23 June. Present were the EU Research Commissioner, scientists and Prince Laurent of Belgium, who is President of an animal welfare foundation.

'The process of making available alternatives has reached a new dimension,' said Thomas Hartung from the European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods (ECVAM), which is part of the Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC). 'It is my view that the time for this idea has come, and the Commission is supporting it on a new scale,' he added.

These comments can be verified with hard facts in terms of EU spending. The Commission has already awarded 20 million euro to research in this area under the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) in response to proposals received following the first call alone. More projects are expected to receive funding following the closure of the second call, which is now open.

ECVAM has also seen an increase in its budget - from 25 million euro under FP5, to 35 million euro under FP6. The centre is, however, struggling to keep up with demand. In the 11 years since ECVAM was founded, 16 methods have been validated, and two more are currently undergoing peer review, which Dr Hartung sees as a huge success. But, he added, 'At the moment we have more methods that we could validate than we are able to. For the first time in history we have become the bottleneck.'

All speakers agreed that the next step must be to speed up the validation process. This normally takes around three years, although the new pyrogen test took seven years to validate in all OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries.

The validation process should be accelerated 'for the security of consumers first of all, then for the wellbeing of animals and the protection of the environment, but also in order to ensure the future of research and to maintain the leadership position that the European Union occupies in this area,' said Mr Busquin.

Several scientists made the point that alternative testing methods not only avert animal suffering, but are cheaper and more efficient. 'In-vitro tests have all the potential to be robotised. This could never happen with animal testing,' said Dr Hartung.

What more can the EU do to encourage the development, validation and employment of alternative testing methods? Joan-Albert Vericat, director of preclinical development at NeuroPharma in Spain, and a member of the 'In-vitro testing industrial platform', believes that technology transfer is letting down European efforts to accelerate the introduction of alternative testing methods. Mr Vericat suggested that the 'problem regarding technology transfer' means that the results of EU projects are not getting the attention they warrant.

Mr Vericat also called for a wide scale evaluation of EU funded projects, and the targeted dissemination of these evaluation results to small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs).

Referring indirectly to the current EU moratorium on funding embryonic stem cell research at EU level, Mr Busquin also claimed that research using embryonic stem cells would accelerate the development of alternative methods: 'Researchers financed by the European Union are resorting to molecular and cellular biology, and to increasingly effective biotechnology methods, which give, for example, the means to carry out a scientific evaluation of toxicity [...]. The use of human cell cultures, including embryonic stem cells, contributes significantly to advances in alternative methods.'

Concluding the event, Prince Laurent appealed to those present to 'spread the word' about alternative testing methods so as to put regulators hand-in-hand with those developing these new tests.

For further information on ECVAM, please visit:

CORDIS RTD-NEWS / © European Communities

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