Charles River launches program for animal testing alternatives

Charles River Laboratories has launched a new project to cut down on animal testing in drug discovery.

The Alternative Methods Advancement Project, or AMAP, will involve adding animal model alternatives to the nonclinical contract research organization's service offerings, according to an April 16 announcement. The company will invest in AI solutions for finding drug candidates and work with policymakers to make alternative testing methods more acceptable to regulators. 

“The adoption of alternatives is a strategic imperative for the industry that requires scientific rigor to prove its possibility and expansive collaboration to drive change,” Birgit Girshick, chief operating officer and corporate executive vice president, said in the announcement. “AMAP is Charles River’s rallying cry that we must unite in the effort to not only build these innovations but also inspire confidence and transform the systems to ensure they can be effectively implemented.”

Moving toward animal alternatives is a significant development in CRL’s business. The CRO is a major supplier of animal models. At one point, as many as one of every two animals used in lab research came from the company, according to The Wall Street Journal

But the segment is a troubled one. In November 2022, CRL was subpoenaed by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) with regards to an investigation into Cambodian monkey suppliers that were importing the animals illegally, as Reuters reported. Neither CRL nor its suppliers were named or charged in that case. However, the following year, the DOJ and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service launched an investigation into several of the company’s Cambodian primate shipments, as documented in the company’s second-quarter 2023 report. 

As a result, CRL voluntarily suspended import of the monkeys into the U.S. from Cambodia, though it has continued to import them into Canada. Prior to the alleged issues with its monkey suppliers, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals claimed that CRL has violated animal welfare laws, citing documents from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

In response to a request for comment from Fierce Biotech Research, CRL Chief Communications Officer and Corporate Vice President Amy Cianciaruso said in an email that the company has invested $200 million in the last four years on coming up with animal testing alternatives.

“We help America compete globally and support people working to cure terrible diseases, including cancer, all with the highest standards of science and ethics,” Cianciaruso said. “The Alternative Methods Advancement Project (AMAP) will highlight our continued significant investments as we follow the science with a focus on patient safety regardless of the agendas of activists and skeptics.” 

In its announcement about AMAP, the company said it plans to spend $300 million more on researching animal alternatives in the next five years. The project is composed of company experts in animal welfare, science, technology, operations and advocacy and will set up new external partnerships in many of those areas on top of the ones CRL has already established. 

The company’s efforts to develop alternatives to animal testing so far have included the January 2024 launch of a bacterial endotoxin test called Trillium, which eliminates the need to use blood from horseshoe crabs. It has also collaborated with other companies to come up with software solutions, including working with one firm called Valo to co-develop an AI program for drug discovery and with another, PathoQuest, on a viral safety testing platform for biologics.