A new “chemosynthetic liver” for drug development may soon obviate the need for animal testing.
At a meeting of the American Chemical Society on Tuesday, technology developer Mukund Chorghade said his Indian company’s product offers an alternative to testing new drugs on birds, rats, mice, and other animals bred for laboratory experimentation. Home to most of the world’s pharmaceutical development, the United States also remains the lone drug producer to permit animal testing on chimpanzees, an animal sharing 96 percent of its genome with humans.
"Researchers in drug discovery make small quantities of new potential drug compounds and then test them in animals," said Chorghade, who is chief scientific officer of Empiriko Corporation and president of THINQ Pharma. "It is a very painstaking, laborious and costly process. Frequently, scientists have to sacrifice many animals, and even after all that, the results are not optimal."
Typically, scientists use guinea pigs and mice to test biological products for abnormal levels of toxicity, moving afterward to clinical trials in developing drugs for everything from AIDS to zygomycosis. In 2010 alone, more than 97,000 laboratory animals suffered pain during experimentation including nearly 1,400 primates, the Department of Agriculture says. Such animals are commonly subjected to forced feeding and inhalation, food and water deprivation, prolonged physical restraint, and the intentional infliction of wounds to study the body’s healing process, according to the Humane Society International.
Yet animal rights activists are increasingly enthused about potential alternatives to animal testing, including the in vitro study of human cells as well as “microdosing," by which scientists test blood samples after administering tested agents to people in doses too small to cause adverse reaction. Advanced computer simulations of the human body too may soon help eliminate most forms of animal testing, as the European Union also encourages greater data sharing among scientists to eliminate redundancies in research.
Still, the new synthetic liver may help to realize the goal much sooner, while also speeding drug development. "These chemosynthetic livers not only produce the same metabolites as live animals in a fraction of the time," Chorghade said in a statement, "but they also provide a more comprehensive metabolic profile, in far larger quantities for further testing and analysis."
Back in India, Chorghade and a couple of partners used the chemosynthetic liver to study the side effects of two medications commonly prescribed together for treatment of high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.
"The average American above 60 years of age is taking multiple drugs a day," Chorghade said. "Side effects from drug-to-drug interactions could be substantial."
As it turned out, the developers found that the cholesterol drug speeded the metabolic breakdown of the hypertension drug, suggesting a lowered effectiveness than when taken alone. Other tests of the device showed an accurate replication of the human liver in processing 50 drugs, half the number required for U.S. approval.