Knowledge Agenda makes recommendations for transition to animal-free innovations

(Bio)medical research is currently undertaking the transition to animal-free research. ZonMw analysed what is needed to accelerate this transition. One of the findings is that more research is needed to substantiate animal-free innovations. Research without the use of animals should be central to the training of researchers. ZonMw president Arfan Ikram today presented the ZonMw Knowledge Agenda on the Transition to Animal-Free Innovations to Piet Adema, Minister of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality (LNV).

'Research with laboratory animals is still the standard in biomedical research. However, animal experiments and animal research models often yield results that do not translate well to applications in people. This Knowledge Agenda sets out what is needed to ensure that animal-free methods become the new standard,' Ikram today explained to Adema. The minister was at The Hubrecht Institute in Utrecht for a working visit on alternatives to animal experiments and testing.

Focus on complexity

ZonMw developed the Knowledge Agenda based on interviews with nearly sixty researchers, entrepreneurs, regulators, liaison staff, financiers and funding bodies, students and teachers from various Dutch universities and institutions. The analysis revealed various opportunities, obstacles and research questions. The importance of thoroughly examining the scientific value of animal-free models (validation) was clearly underlined, for example. There is also a need to develop innovations that allow researchers to answer more complex questions.

Results that can be better translated to people

ZonMw encourages the development of animal-free research methods, including through the programme More Knowledge with Fewer Animals; ZonMw is also one of the partners of the Transition Programme for Innovation without the use of animals. Animal-free research methods are mostly based on cultured human cells or computer models. The results yielded by such animal-free research can often be better translated to people than experiments involving laboratory animals. There are also ethical reasons for embracing animal-free research as an immediate and basic alternative to using laboratory animals. However, it is by no means possible to answer all research questions on the basis of animal-free methods and models at the present time. That can only be achieved through substantial progress in innovation strategies and results.

Stimulating innovation

The Netherlands is a pioneer in animal-free innovations. That presents opportunities for scientific research and innovation. It can also stimulate the development of new treatments, as animal-free innovations may have particular added value in relation to advanced treatments. The Knowledge Agenda supports that development, especially in academic research. It describes how various parties can encourage the transition to animal-free innovations and remove barriers. Research funding bodies, ministries, knowledge institutions and training institutes are amongst those having a key role to play in this context.

Culture change needed

In the training for researchers, experimental animal research is often still regarded as basic, standard practice. Researchers traditionally continue to rely on animal testing in the workplace as well as in technical and professional literature. A transition to animal-free innovations therefore requires a culture change. According to the Knowledge Agenda, that change will become easier once knowledge institutions start assessing scientists’ performance and results differently. Public debate also remains necessary. The Knowledge Agenda makes a constructive contribution to that ongoing debate.

What are the next steps?

The Knowledge Agenda is now being widely disseminated to all stakeholders. In this way, ZonMw aims to highlight all the recommendations and also to stimulate discussion with relevant parties. The goal is to set up an ambitious, long-term knowledge and innovation programme aimed at jointly giving concrete substance to the solutions and recommendations from this Knowledge Agenda. ZonMw hopes that this Knowledge Agenda will mark a turning point in the transition to animal-free innovations and contribute to research that is relevant to human applications.

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