Help us to call on the Australian Government to dedicate funding towards animal-free research.
Using animal-free methods of research is better for humans, better for animals, more cost-effective (1, 2), and better for the environment (3). Despite Australia’s commitment to the application of the 3Rs principles (4) of replace, reduce, and refine, Australia has made no specific funding commitment. With growing concern within the research community that animal studies are contributing to failures in translational research (5), this is an area which requires urgent investment.
Australia is missing an opportunity to replace animal use in medical research
A majority of Australians are supportive of the use of alternatives to animals for medical research purposes. The Australian & New Zealand Council for the Care of Animals in Research and Teaching (ANZCCART) revealed that in Australia during the Covid-19 pandemic (July 2022), “there was overwhelming support for looking into alternatives to using animals in scientific research” (6).
Approximately 90% of drugs found to be safe and effective in preclinical research, of which animal testing is currently an expected requirement, fail to make it to human clinical use (7). This represents a significant amount of Australia’s $1.4 billion clinical trials sector (1). In contrast, investing in the development and application of contemporary animal-free models of research may contribute an additional $1.28 billion from organoids and $310 million from organs-on-a-chip to the Australian sector (1).
The CSIRO states that, “setting Australia on a path towards these opportunities would require actioning the [CSIRO report] recommendations within five years [from 2023].
While there are some non-government animal-replacement or 3Rs funding schemes in Australia, and some Australian funding bodies do fund research projects utilising animal-free technologies (8), there is no specific government funding for the development and validation of animal-free methods and there is concern that the current systems of application review mean that those applications do not stand a realistic chance of success, with researchers communicating that the application review process is “deeply flawed” (9). Therefore, the only way such applications would succeed through the system would be for dedicated funds being set aside specifically for this area of research.
We need this both to reduce animal suffering in labs and also to ensure that Australia is a pioneer at the forefront of developing new animal-free technologies which will be more likely to result in clinical application.
Overseas Examples of Government Funding
Around the world, a number of government-funded initiatives are addressing the need to further develop and validate animal-free methods of research, including:
The Complement Animal Research In Experimentation (Complement-ARIE) Program, a National Institute of Health (NIH, United States) research program which funds the development, standardization, validation, and use of new (non-animal) methods and approaches to research, established in 2024.
The National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs), an independent UK organisation established in 2004;
The European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods (ECVAM), established 1991;
The Interagency Coordinating Committee on the Validation of Alternative Methods (ICCVAM), established in the US in 1997; and
The Centre for Documentation and Evaluation of Alternatives to Animal Experiments (ZEBET), which forms part of the German Federal Institute for Risk Management, Berlin, established in 1989.
Business Case for Funding Non-Animal Methodologies
Considering the public interest in ethical treatment of animals, the likelihood of animal-free alternatives providing more beneficial outcomes for public health and the legislation itself requiring adherence to the 3R’s, Australia’s peak funding bodies are duty-bound to allocate meaningful financial support to the development of animal-free models.
The use of animals in research is, according to the code, for cases where no alternative exists, but alternatives are unlikely to be adequately adopted without support for the development of animal-free based scientific testing. Australian researchers therefore need dedicated funds earmarked specifically for the development of animal-free methods of research – as occurs in other nations.
Australian federal, state and territory governments should now be making a commitment to fund research into seeking alternatives to animal use – as is already the case in other countries.
Read the full Animal-Free Science Advocacy Business Case
Animal-based research generates additional environmental costs, compared to non-animal based research, which is often overlooked when considering the impact of animal research. These additional environmental costs also reflect financial costs. For example, to ensure the comfort and required maintenance of animal environments, research laboratories require significant amounts of energy, up to ten times more per square meter than common office buildings (10).
Depending on the level of biosecurity at a facility, there may be further energy and infrastructure requirements (11) to maintain a strict enclosed laboratory, including power supply and exhaust systems (12), in addition to increased air handling units, advanced cleaning procedures, and containment amenities (13). Bio secure laboratories may also have the requirement of being a building independent of others in the facility with independent power and airflow systems.
Reducing the need for additional power, exhaust systems, air handling units, cleaning, and containment, will reduce the cost of maintaining animal-based research facilities and allow for more funding to be spent on human-relevant health research.
Read the full Environmental Impact
CSIRO Non-Animal Models Report
A report from the team at CSIRO Futures examines the potential of animal-free models in preclinical research and the actions Australia will need to take to pursue their use. The report states, “The complexity of non-animal models is rapidly increasing, equating to or surpassing the performance of traditionally used animal models in several applications. Due to their enhanced biological relevance, non-animal models can increase productivity and reduce costs by identifying unsuitable medical products earlier in development and re-investing savings in more promising candidates.”
Australia has existing infrastructure which can support a rapid transition to animal-free research. One recent example is the Australian Organoid Facility (AOF) which was established at the University of Queensland’s (UQ) Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology in place of part of UQ’s animal research facility. And Greg Williams (Associate Director) and Laura-Anne Thomas (Strategy Manager), of CSIRO Futures who compiled the Non-Animal Models report, highlighted Schott Minifab, “an international biotech and medical device company with Australian roots, which has successfully established scaled production of non-animal model components in Australia for domestic and export markets.”
Read the full CSIRO Non-Animal Models report
While other nations forge ahead in the area of alternatives research, Australia is missing an opportunity to excel in clinical translation.
5. Marshall LJ, Bailey J, Cassotta M, Herrmann K, Pistollato F. Poor Translatability of Biomedical Research Using Animals — A Narrative Review. Alternatives to Laboratory Animals. 2023;51(2):102-135. doi:10.1177/02611929231157756
Hero Image: Roger Kingbird / We Animals Media, © Copyright We Animals Media 2024. New Zealand white rabbits are by far the most common rabbit breed used in research, toxicology and testing. Typically pair-housed in a laboratory setting, this rabbit sits alone in a caged tray and remains deprived of the ability to engage in their natural behavior.