New medicines without animal testing
Researchers want to reduce the use of animal experiments when developing new medicines. Computer simulations are becoming increasingly better at handling the task.
Despite the EU imposing increasingly stringent requirements for scientific animal experiments, more and more animals are being used to test new medicines. A number of European research institutions and pharmaceutical companies are bent on breaking away from this practice.
– We must avoid as many animal experiments as possible when developing new medicines, says Professor Annette Bauer-Brandl from the Drug Transport and Delivery research group at the Department of Physics, Chemistry and Pharmacy at the University of Southern Denmark.
She points out that although animal experiments cannot be completely avoided, it is possible to reduce their extent by ‘testing’ medicine on computers instead of animals – and there are several advantages to this.
We must avoid as many animal experiments as possible when developing new medicines.
Cooperation with industry
– There are several aspects to the use of computers: The ethics of animal welfare – tests are not only frequently performed on mice and rats, but also pigs and monkeys. Added to this, using computers is a huge time-saver, because it allows us to develop new medicines in a matter of years instead of decades, and that’s great for the patients, she says.
Together with colleagues in her research group – Professor Martin Brandl and Associate Professor Paul Stein, and 18 other partner institutions from other EU countries, she is involved in the new EU-funded project, InPharma.
The main idea of the project is to assign 13 young researchers to their own research project so that they can earn a PhD in different approaches to working with the development of medicine without the use of laboratory animals and thus contribute to the dissemination of knowledge about new methods. The projects are carried out as a collaboration between research institutions and the industry.
The computer is the new laboratory animal
The aim of the project is to find ways to avoid animal trials in all key stages of drug development: When researchers discover a new, promising substance, it should not be tested on animals. Instead, a large variety of data on the substance should be obtained by animal-free experiments.
This data must then be fed to computer models tasked with calculating the most optimal formulation (‘recipe’) for a new medicine. Finally, this ‘recipe’ must be fed to other computer models that will simulate how people will react to the medicine.
SDU will host three PhD students, who will spend half their time in SDU’s laboratories and the other half at the pharmaceutical companies Roche, Janssen and Solvias.
Humans do not always react like animals
– An ancient method used in drug development is to induce things in animals and see how they react. Until now, no other methods were available, and it has been the best way to test new medical substances. However, this test method just isn’t very effective, it takes a long time and a lot of animals are needed, says Annette Bauer-Brandl.
In addition, animals and humans are not alike:
– You can work with a substance or formulation that many different animals react to as intended, but once we initiate clinical trials and test it on humans, they can react surprisingly differently. Animals are not humans, she explains.
The goal is that computers will allow us to reach fully simulated experiments on test subjects without using laboratory animals.
Computers doing the donkey work
This is where computers come into the picture. Today, they are so powerful that they can simulate the extremely complex reactions of an organism exposed to a substance, thus showing researchers how an organism will react to it.
Aided by computers, researchers can not only simulate an organism’s reaction to new substances and their formulations – they can also understand what is happening in the organism.
– The goal is that computers will allow us to reach fully simulated experiments on test subjects without using laboratory animals. From there, we can then move on to clinical trials with real test subjects, which is the last step before a drug can be released, says Annette Bauer-Brandl.
How To: Testing without animals
Many medicines have to be absorbed through the intestines and this is often tested on rats. Professor Annette Bauer-Brandl has invented an alternative solution: An artificial material that behaves in the same way as intestinal tissue. It is filled in trays with 96 small holes, and one tray can thus replace 96 rats.
Called PermeaPad® Plate, the trays are currently sold by the German company InnoMe. PermeaPad earned her SDU’s 2018 Innovation Award and forms the basis for participation in the new EU project.
Meet the researcher
Professor Annette Bauer-Brandl’s research is driven by her vision of developing optimised medicines at reduced costs and effort while respecting the lives of animals.
Project no. 955756
Funded by the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme, which is the largest research and innovation programme in the EU to date. The goal is to transfer big ideas from the laboratory to the market.
- University College Cork, Ireland
- Fraunhofer Gesellschaft zur Förderung der angewandten Forschung, Germany
- National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece
- University of Southern Denmark, Denmark
- University of Applied Sciences & Arts Northwestern Switzerland
- AstraZeneca, Sweden
- Bayer, Germany
- Janssen Pharmaceutical, Belgium
- Hoffmann-La Roche, Switzerland
- Solvias, Switzerland
- Zentiva, Czechoslovakia
- Accelopment, Switzerland
- Certara, United Kingdom
- Hafnium Labs, Switzerland
- Merck, Germany
- Pion Inc, United Kingdom
- Johann Wolfgang Goethe University, Germany
- University of Basel, Switzerland
- Health Product Regulatory Authority, Ireland.