FDA, Tox21 try IT in place of animal tests

Information technology is the lead dog pulling drug development away from animal testing. The Tox21 collaboration involves an under-construction database of 3,000 pharma and 7,000 environmental chemicals. Drug developers will use an automated system to screen sets of pharma chemicals in the database against animal and human cell targets, reports Bloomberg.

Tox21 is a collaboration of the National Institutes of Health and the EPA, which joined forces in 2008 to study chemical toxicity and improve risk assessments for environmental chemicals. The FDA joined last month. The Tox21 system promises a means of identifying compounds likely to have toxicity characteristics unacceptable for use in humans. Such identification will allow drugmakers enough insight to truncate costly development efforts prior to animal testing.

Drugmakers are already ponying up failed compounds to populate the database. Pfizer, the only one named as a contributor so far, donated 90 such candidates. Twenty of these had produced liver toxicity in rodents.

The Tox21 initiative helps the regulator with two of its objectives: first, to migrate away from animal testing for the sake of the animals. The second is to find ways to speed the process of bringing new drugs to market. Automated toxicity testing has the potential to lop off months to years of animal-test development time.

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