“By endorsing the continuation of vital research that requires chimpanzees, NIH Director Francis Collins encourages us to continue creative efforts to design critical studies aimed at developing vaccines for hepatitis C and other diseases that affect millions of people worldwide,” John L. VandeBerg, Ph.D., director, Southwest National Primate Research Center (SNPRC), said in a statement to IOM and NIH.
SNPRC is hosted within the Texas Biomedical Research Institute. SNPRC is home to approximately 3,000 nonhuman primates including 150 chimpanzees, Texas Biomed spokesman Joe Carey told GEN.
Texas Biomed and other groups supporting research on chimpanzees contend that chimps are the only animals besides humans that are susceptible to infection with hepatitis B and hepatitis C viruses. Unlike humans, however, chimpanzees do not develop symptoms from these infections. Research with chimpanzees at Texas Biomed was instrumental in developing a successful vaccine for hepatitis B, now given to school-age children worldwide, and the institute hopes to develop a similarly successful vaccine for hepatitis C.
Committee members opposed to using chimpanzees argued that rodent and other alternative models can provide sufficient immunogenicity and safety data to proceed to human efficacy trials without the need for studies in chimpanzees. They also said that chimpanzee data does not always predict vaccine toxicity or efficacy in humans and that the chimpanzee model is often complicated by the lack of sufficient quantity needed to generate statistically significant results.
“The likelihood and length of any possible delay in vaccine development caused by foregoing chimpanzee research is difficult to assess, and human trials are required whether or not research proceeds using the chimpanzee during the course of vaccine development,” IOM stated in its report. The institute panelists agreed that human trials of candidate vaccines could be designed and performed ethically with or without data from chimpanzee research.
Kathleen Conlee, senior director, animal research issues for the Human Society of the United States (HSUS), which opposes the use of chimps in biomedical research, told GEN the IOM report highlighted the fact that “alternatives to chimpanzee use are the answer going forward—not only in regards to chimpanzee welfare but in regards to more effective science, for economic and scientific reasons.” During the 2011 federal fiscal year, only 53 active projects sponsored by NIH used chimpanzees in research.
HSUS has joined six groups in asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to change the designation of captive chimps from “threatened” to “endangered,” which would mean they would be protected under the Endangered Species Act. FWS launched a review of the status of chimps last September following the groups’ petition. Current law distinguishes between captive chimps and wild chimps, which are protected as endangered species.
Opponents of chimp research have also urged Congress to pass the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act of 2011 (HR 1513 and S 810). The bill would phase out invasive research on chimps and other great apes as well as use of Federal funding for such research. Additionally, it would ban the breeding and transporting of great apes for research. The measure would also require the provision of lifetime care of great apes owned or controlled by the federal government “in a suitable sanctuary through the permanent retirement of the apes.”
The House bill has 161 co-sponsors, and the Senate bill has 14. However, no action has been taken since the measure was introduced a year ago in April. Similar measures failed in 2008, 2009, and 2010. With Congress embroiled in the budget and other issues, bill supporters in the animal protection community will have to overcome the usual election year inertia to get the chimp-protection bill back on track.
In the meantime, NIH will be developing policy to discourage but not necessarily ban using chimpanzees in research. It remains to be seen how that would be reconciled with FWS, where a redefinition of captive chimps could preclude their use in research. The answer will likely emerge in about a year.
What would you like to see happen with rules regarding using chimpanzees in research?
Ban use of chimps
Add restrictions but not a full ban
Keep the current rules