Chimpanzee research must continue - Here's why

The IOM report stated that “a new, emerging, or re-emerging disease or disorder may present challenges to treatment prevention, and/or control that defy non-chimpanzee models;” that “comparative genomics research may be necessary for understanding human development, disease mechanisms, and susceptibility;” and that “chimpanzees may be necessary for obtaining otherwise unattainable insight to support understanding of social and behavioral factors that include the development, prevention, or treatment of disease.”

The authors assert that the Act “will save more than $330 million in taxpayer dollars over the next decade.”
This assertion has no basis in fact. Research facilities are intrinsically more cost-effective than sanctuaries in maintaining chimpanzees for several reasons:
Because research facilities that maintain chimpanzees also maintain large numbers of other animals, they have economies of scale in staffing, medical, and other expenses that are not possible at chimpanzee sanctuaries. Some institutions at which research colonies reside contribute funding to partially support the colonies at those institutions. Research facilities already have the capacity to house all the chimpanzees that are available for research, whereas new facilities would have to be constructed at sanctuaries to house more chimpanzees (i.e., Chimp Haven and all other sanctuaries are filled to capacity).  This cost is at least $75,000 per animal.

The authors assert that regarding AIDS and cancer, “. . . we’ve yet to learn about any treatments from chimpanzee experiments that would have helped them.”
The HIV vaccine experiments with chimpanzees were highly informative. In the early stages of the AIDS epidemic, dozens of candidate vaccines were developed.  To test each of them in humans was not practical. Each of these candidate vaccines was administered to chimpanzees. We learned in weeks that the candidate vaccine was not effective in blocking HIV infection.  We also learned a great deal about the human immune response against HIV.  That work, which could not have been done with human subjects, paved the way for entirely new strategies for HIV vaccine development, which are currently being implemented.
The authors say that “. . . when chimpanzees are used in invasive experiments, they are kept in small metal cages, deprived of normal social interaction and often subjected to harmful procedures.”
Chimpanzees maintained at research facilities and at sanctuaries are generally healthy and their complex social and psychological needs are well provided for as they live in social groups in indoor/outdoor housing.

Unlike sanctuaries, research facilities have large veterinary, animal care, and behavioral services staffs, extensive clinic and hospital facilities, and sophisticated diagnostic pathology laboratories and pathology personnel that provide specialized resources that are critical to the health and well-being of the chimpanzees.
The Act would prevent procedures as simple as collecting a blood sample from a vein or injecting the animal with a vaccine -- which are used every day in clinical medicine and clinical research with people. These comprise the vast majority of procedures used in research with chimpanzees.
The authors assert that the FDA recently approved two new therapeutics for hepatitis C — the first in 25 years — and there are two additional drugs in the pipeline. None of these four medications used chimpanzees for either development or testing.”
While it is true that not all of these drugs were tested in chimpanzees, it is not true that they were brought to market without the use of chimpanzees. In fact, development of those drugs depended heavily on prior basic research with chimpanzees that enabled scientists to understand what types of drugs might best be able to prevent hepatitis C virus replication in infected individuals. Most HCV anti-viral drugs that reached human trials without prior testing in chimpanzees did so because proof-of-concept studies had already been successfully conducted with chimpanzees using similar drugs against the same viral targets.

Medical advances from biomedical research with chimpanzees, such as the development of the vaccines for polio, hepatitis A, and hepatitis B, has saved millions of human lives; and future research with chimpanzees has the potential of saving millions more lives. Let's not sacrifice those lives by ignoring the recommendations of the IOM report and those that are being developed by the NIH Working Group.

Trevett is the president and CEO of the Texas Biomedical Research Institute, home of the Southwest National Primate Research Center.