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The Problem with Testing Drugs on Animals

It’s Expensive and Not Cool for the Animals

The way we’ve been testing new drugs, by using animals, is getting a lot of side-eye for being both costly and kind of harsh. Since 2020, when China decided to keep its monkeys for its own science projects because of the whole Covid-19 situation, the price for a single monkey shot up to more than $55,000. That’s a lot of money, and it’s making companies think twice about using animals to test drugs. Plus, it doesn’t look great to be using animals this way in the first place.

Researcher team and the development of antiretroviral drugs in a chemical laboratory

AI to the Rescue

Cutting Down on Animal Tests

There’s some cool tech on the rise that could help us stop relying so much on animals for testing. A company named Quantiphi is working on something called “digital animal replacement technology” (DART), which could make drug testing faster and cheaper by about 45%. This is not only good news for companies‘ wallets but also means fewer animals have to be involved, which is great for them.

How Does DART Work?

What Quantiphi does is basically give the drugs to human cells instead of animals and then use a special digital microscope and AI to see what happens. This approach can mimic what happens in animal tests about 92 to 95% of the time, which is pretty impressive. It shows that AI could really help cut down on the need for animal testing.

Everyone’s Getting on Board

Moving Towards a Future Without Animal Testing

The push to stop testing on animals and use other methods, like AI, is picking up steam. Not just small companies but even big drug makers are looking into these alternatives. Plus, governments are starting to get the hint too. The US, for example, passed a law in 2022 saying you don’t have to test on animals if you can use digital methods instead.

So, what we’re seeing is a big shift towards making drug development cheaper, faster, and more animal-friendly, all thanks to AI.

The Coronavirus or COVID vaccine researched by pharmaceutical bio research and development scientist
The Coronavirus or COVID vaccine researched by pharmaceutical bio research and development scientist

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  1. What’s causing the rise in animal testing costs?
    The main reason is that China, a major supplier of non-human primates for research, stopped exporting these animals in 2020 to support its own biotech expansion, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic. This has led to a dramatic increase in prices, with monkeys now costing upwards of $55,000 each.
  2. How does AI help reduce the need for animal testing?
    AI, through technologies like digital animal replacement technology (DART), can simulate the effects of drugs on human cells, bypassing the need for animal subjects. This method is not only faster and cheaper but also avoids ethical concerns associated with animal testing. Quantiphi’s AI technology, for example, can replicate 92 to 95% of the results obtained from animal tests.
  3. Is AI-based testing as reliable as traditional animal testing?
    Yes, in many cases, AI-based testing has proven to be almost as reliable as animal testing, with success rates of 92 to 95% in mimicking animal test results. This high level of accuracy suggests that AI can be a viable alternative for pre-clinical drug testing.
  4. What are the benefits of moving away from animal testing?
    The benefits include reducing the ethical concerns associated with using animals for testing, cutting down on research costs, and speeding up the drug development process. Additionally, it aligns with growing public and regulatory demands for more humane research practices.
  5. Have any laws been passed to support the use of AI in drug testing?
    Yes, in the United States, a law was passed in 2022 that removes the mandatory requirement for animal testing if digital methods, such as those offered by AI technologies, are available. This legislative change supports the shift towards using digital alternatives in drug development.

Sources The Financial Times