COVID-19 Open Letter
Published on May 15, 2020
We join a global call for more animal free research funding to accelerate COVID-19 vaccine
Animal Free Research UK is one of almost 100 leading experts this week calling for advanced animal free research methods to be prioritised to accelerate the discovery of effective vaccines and treatments for COVID-19.
The letter has been published ahead of the World Health Assembly on Monday 18 May, and is directed at the World Health Organization, governments, funding bodies, and regulators. It states that “significant funding and precious time is being spent on animal research…. despite the known species differences which make the results from such data unreliable when translated to humans.”
In a move to accelerate the discovery of a COVID-19 vaccine, the International Coalition of Medicines Regulatory Authorities (ICMRA) has advised that the usual animal tests for the effectiveness (efficacy) of potential vaccines is not required before proceeding to human clinical trials.
Despite this, efficacy tests using animals are still taking place, and in some cases in parallel with human clinical trials.
Tests on animals which attempt to find out if a potential vaccine is safe for humans are still required. Animals are typically force-fed or injected with a substance while restrained and suffer debilitating and even fatal side effects.
Yet animals respond differently to drugs to humans. More than 90% of drugs which prove promising in animal trials fail in humans, either due to lack of effectiveness or safety concerns.
Despite this, laboratories around the world including in the UK are using animals to test possible vaccines for COVID-19. Researchers are attempting to “humanize” mice to ensure they contract the virus. Yet mice have different respiratory systems to humans and do not naturally have the same receptors the virus uses to infect human cells. These fundamental differences risk impeding the production of vaccines and other treatments to help prevent and reduce the symptoms of COVID-19 in people.
Advanced animal free replacement methods which relate directly to the disease in humans are being progressed – but urgently need more funding and support. These sophisticated techniques have the potential to deliver safer, more effective vaccines and treatments to patients more quickly.
- Mathematical modelling of transmission and size of the epidemic
- The use of patient lung fluid cultures to study the virus genome
- Patient biopsy samples to investigate lung tissue damage
- Artificial intelligence models to predict which drugs could treat COVID-19
- Using antibodies from COVID-19 survivors to treat patients
- Human organ-on-a-chip technology emulating human lung infection for drug discovery
- Organoids to investigate how the disease infects human tissue
- In vitro 3D human airway cell models for evaluating drugs
- Using tissue samples from COVID-19 patients to detect viral load
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