Washington Update

FASEB–AAVMC Congressional Briefing Emphasizes Value of Animal Research

By: Naomi Charalambakis
Thursday, March 31, 2022
On March 16, FASEB hosted a virtual congressional briefing with the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) to educate congressional staff about the role of animal research in basic science, veterinary medicine, and pharmaceutical drug development. The briefing, “Nonanimal Models in Biomedical Research: We Aren’t There Yet,” featured four keynote speakers representing the academia, industry, and government sectors who explained how animal research improves human health and why nonanimal methods such as organoids and computer models can only supplement—not replace—ongoing work with animals.

Rep. Kurt Schrader, DVM (D-OR), the only veterinarian in Congress and co-chair of the House Veterinary Medicine Caucus, opened the event by stating the necessity of federally funded animal research to advance the U.S.  scientific and public health priorities. Schrader noted that scientists and veterinarians currently use nonanimal methods wherever appropriate. However, given their inherent limitations, their exclusive adoption is far in the future. Additionally, Schrader emphasized how animal research is central to advancing One Health, a concept that seeks to optimize the interconnectedness of human, animal, and environmental health. 

Sue VandeWoude, DVM, of Colorado State University provided an overview of the laws and regulations overseeing animal research, including the Animal Welfare Act and Public Health Service Policy. VandeWoude underscored that scientists, veterinarians, and animal care staff demonstrate their commitment to animal welfare by going above and beyond mandated policies to ensure optimal animal health and scientific rigor throughout the lifespan of research studies. 

Szczepan Baran, VMD, of VeriSIM Life and Patrick Devine, PhD, of Novartis explained how animals are a critical part of the discovery and development of new drugs and therapies, a process that can take up to 15 years and nearly $3 billion. While pharmaceutical companies are dedicated to utilizing and advancing alternative models when feasible, Baran and Devine stressed that the sudden elimination of research with animals before nonanimals models are ready could have catastrophic results in clinical studies with patients and potentially stop drug development all together. Baran and Devine offered ways Congress can facilitate future development of animal alternatives such as funding validation studies and consulting with scientific experts before developing new laws related to animal research.

Finally, Amy LeBlanc, DVM, PhD, of the National Cancer Institute’s (NCI) Comparative Oncology Program highlighted how canines serve as valuable preclinical models for studying cancer because they share many features of human cancers such as osteosarcoma, prostate, and breast cancer. LeBlanc described how NCI’s Comparative Oncology Trial Consortium, an active network of 20 academic comparative oncology centers in the United States,  designs and performs clinical trials in pet dogs with cancer to evaluate new therapies that could potentially benefit both animals and humans. 

To close the event, keynote speakers engaged in a robust discussion and Q&A with attendees. The discussion  focused on strategies for improving public communication about animal research with lawmakers and developing evidence-based policies that both maximize economic investments and minimize potential risk for patients.