Merck & Co. will join the two dozen other U.S. drug companies putting a stop to using chimpanzees in their research, according to an announcement by The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). The companies had been using them in pharmaceutical research, but as technology improves, drug companies no longer need to use animals for testing. As a result, they will release chimps from labs and warehouses. Nearly 1,000 chimps will be set free to live in sanctuaries and retire in a peaceful environment.
Pressure from Congress has helped free the chimps. Last June, Congress used a 2011 Institute of Medicine Study as a reference to encourage companies to stop research on chimpanzees. The study shows that due to recent advances in technology, medical research on animals has become unnecessary.
President Obama has also made a difference in setting the chimps free. He put a new law into effect in December 2013. It is called the Chimpanzee Health Improvement, Maintenance and Protection Act. In it, he laid out plans to assist sanctuaries in taking care of the chimps as they retire from being used in government labs.
The government has set many chimps free, but private companies have approximately 450 chimpanzees in their possession for research purposes. As technology improves, companies are finding alternatives to subjecting animals to potentially harmful drugs.
Advancements in science are changing the way researchers conduct testing to satisfy the FDA before human testing can begin. More testing is done through simulations and though the use of bacteria and cells, rather than using animals to test new drugs and their possible side effects.
Merck is not the first drug company to make this decision, however. GlaxoSmithKline stopped using chimps for medical research back in 2008, proving that FDA approval of new drugs was possible without testing them on primates first. Novo Nordisk, Grifols and others followed suit.
Advocates for animal rights also contributed to the push for the chimps return to a sanctuary. They argued that the poor treatment of the chimps for the purpose of medical research was inhumane. Chimpanzees who spend their lives in laboratories are caged, restrained, isolated and fearful.
The HSUS stands up for more than just the physical care of chimps. It also cares about their psychological well-being. Many of the chimps that have been freed from government labs have been transferred to Chimp Haven, the National Chimp Sanctuary in Keithville, Louisiana. The 200 acres of forested land provides a healthy living space for the animals, allowing them to live without bars. They get fresh air, room to play, trees to climb and the ability to socialize with other chimps.
The HSUS is supportive of Merck’s decision to end testing on chimps. Their policy change regarding animal testing “sends a strong message that private industry is moving away from chimpanzee research,” said Kathleen Conlee, Vice President of Animal Research Issues at HSUS.
Merck’s announcement that it will use alternative methods of research and stop using chimpanzees for testing is another big step in the fair treatment of animals. As technology improves and animals are no loner necessary to test new drugs, chimps are set free to live in one of the five U.S. sanctuaries.
By Tracy Rose