Animal testing has been and will remain controversial. Whereas most people accept the need to test new medicines or vaccines on laboratory animals before they are authorized for human use, it is also widely accepted that there is a need to strike the right and careful balance between expected benefit for patients and research on the one hand, and the suffering of animals, on the other hand. In Switzerland, where citizens have voted and endorsed animal testing multiple times over the last 30 years, the debate has become much more balanced over the last few years. One reason behind this may be that the industry’s commitment to animal welfare is now widely acknowledged. With Interpharma‘s 10-point Animal Welfare Charter introduced in 2010, research-based pharmaceutical companies in Switzerland have become pioneers in this regard and gained respect even among international experts. The Charter, among others, pledges to strive towards continuous progress on the 3Rs (reduce, refine, replace) principles, improving conditions for animals in research, and also pursuing animal welfare objectives not only in Switzerland but on a global level.
One element of the Animal Welfare Charter demonstrating companies‘ willingness to walk the talk has led to joint audits of external partners with regard to their compliance with animal welfare standards. Remarkably, the Audit Working Group, composed of experts from Interpharma member companies, managed something which until recently was still unthinkable: undertaking joint audits across external contract companies. The objective: to discover possible shortcomings in the area of animal welfare at an early stage, discuss steps to initiate improvements amicably. The collaboration has different advantages: whilst joint audits conducted on behalf of several companies have more leverage, the experience exchange among company’s experts is also productive, and alternatively audited companies can deal with a group of experts at once.
Unsurprisingly, it took some time to prepare the relevant checklists, position papers, and joint rules for conducting the audits, which naturally, also strictly observe antitrust rules. But the effort paid off. In 2014, the first joint audit was successfully carried out. Since then, eight reviews have looked into animal conditions in breeding companies in Europe and the USA. In 2017, four more reviews are planned, and as a first ever one at a Contract Research Organization (CROs).
Despite initial concerns, the benefits of joint reviews have been accepted by all parties involved. Trust was built, and the experience exchange in the cross-company cooperation is seen as real value added. It is also remarkable that even the audited companies came to appreciate the transparent and professional approach demonstrating their genuine commitment to animal welfare.
(This blog is a re-posting that was first published on Monday 27 March in the Basler Zeitung)