Medical research is a global endeavour regulated locally. Researchers move, patients move – even animals move (sometimes) – and ideas, of course care little for borders. But could more be done to agree common standards for animal research and for validating non-animal testing models?
Well, yes. International cooperation is climbing steadily up the agenda as scientists and policymakers from Europe, the US, China, Brazil and elsewhere share their views on how to support medical progress while making meaningful strides forward towards the 3Rs – reduction, refinement and replacement.
It makes perfect sense, regardless of your view of animal research. Collaboration is at the core of science; it’s where some of the best ideas come from. So if we are serious about finding therapies for diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s disease we should encourage international cooperation.
And if we want to see the highest standards of animal welfare and the sharing of best practices – not to mention the adoption of viable non-animal testing methods by regulators – then a global approach is needed.
That’s why it was encouraging to see experts and regulators from the US and China joining their EU counterparts for a conference in Brussels this month. The 8th annual EPAA conference in Brussels took international cooperation as its theme and looked beyond Europe rather than focusing within.
The Platform signed a memorandum of understanding with the US-based Institute for In Vitro Sciences dedicated to international dissemination of alternative techniques for safety evaluation, and the EPAA will provide up to €100,000 in sponsorship over two years to the IIVS to support training in several regions including China and Brazil.
Why should Europe care?
In this age of austerity, you might ask why Europe would want to help an American company to train scientists and regulators in China. Fair question! The answer is partly that better global standards will be good for medical research, good for animal welfare and good for us.
But the full answer is also that Europe should encourage standards in medical research to rise in tandem across the globe. Not only does this help to discourage migration of research to areas with weak regulation, it also incentivises European industry to invest in non-animal methods – if companies are confident that these models will be acceptable to authorities around the world they are more likely to take the risk of developing them.
But at the EPAA conference it was tempting, at least for a moment, to imagine a future where Europe not only sets the standard for animal and non-animal testing but also brings others with it in a way that preserves its global competitiveness.
Are we being too optimistic? Let us know…