Washington Update

NASEM Nonhuman Primate Committee Hosts First Public Meeting

By: Naomi Charalambakis
Thursday, April 14, 2022

Last month, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) announced the roster for its new committee, “Nonhuman Primate Model Systems: State of the Science and Future Needs.” The committee is responsible for examining the current role and future need for nonhuman primates in biomedical research funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Fifteen members representing academia and private sectors comprise the committee, including FASEB’s recommended nominee Myrtle Davis, DVM, PhD, Scientific Vice President of Discovery Toxicology at Bristol-Myers Squibb and Vice President of the Society of Toxicology.

In its first public meeting on April 5, Lyric Jorgenson, PhD, Acting Director of the NIH Office of Science Policy, shared the impetus for the committee’s establishment in addition to its overall charge. Per the directive outlined in fiscal year 2021 appropriations, Congress requested NASEM conduct an independent study to assess the current and future role of nonhuman primates in biomedical research and address existing research gaps, including those related to nonhuman primate availability and transportation needs. To this end, Jorgenson explained the committee’s three-part charge:

1. Perform a landscape analysis of current nonhuman primate model use in NIH-funded biomedical research, including scientific opportunities and contributions to human health;
2. Explore future needs and opportunities to improve human health and challenges for nonhuman primate research, including emerging science areas and nonhuman primate demand during and post-COVID-19 pandemic; and
3. Outline opportunities for new approach methodologies to complement or reduce research reliance on nonhuman primates.

During her presentation, Jorgenson emphasized that while nonhuman primates account for only half of 1 percent of all animals used in NIH studies, they remain a key part of the agency’s efforts to study a wide range of biomedical research areas, including COVID-19, cancer, fundamental neuroscience, and regenerative medicine. As part of the committee’s efforts to address the demand for nonhuman primates, Jorgenson tasked the committee with drafting an analysis that augments the 2018 NIH report, Nonhuman Primate Evaluation and Analysis, and specifically identifies the challenges in acquiring nonhuman primates, as evidenced by the pandemic. Given that the 2018 report acknowledged the rising demand for nonhuman primates over the next five years, the committee’s supplemental findings will help inform future policy and research directions.

To achieve the committee’s charge, Jorgenson underscored the committee’s role in collecting information and reporting findings rather than formulating consensus recommendations. Jorgenson cautioned committee members from using terms such as “essential” and “need” when assessing nonhuman research as these terms are subjective and often misconstrued. Instead, the committee is encouraged to evaluate where and why nonhuman primates are used in NIH research.

The committee expects to submit a final report in early 2023.