NIH Issues RFI on Assessing the Safety of Relocating At-Risk Chimpanzees

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) issued a Request for Information (RFI) on June 11 in the Federal Register titled, “Input on Report from Council of Councils on Assessing the Safety of Relocating At-Risk Chimpanzees.” This RFI stems from the 2015 decision by NIH Director Francis Collins that all NIH-owned chimpanzees should be retired and relocated to the chimpanzee sanctuary, Chimp Haven, in Keithville, LA. However, many of the NIH-owned chimpanzees are of an advanced age and relocation has caused unnecessary stress on several of them. Additionally, there have been an alarming number of deaths of retired chimpanzees after relocation to Chimp Haven during the past several years.

The NIH posted the notice in the Federal Register to inform the research community, and other interested parties, that it has received a report from the Council of Councils Working Group on Assessing the Safety of Relocating At-Risk Chimpanzees. The NIH will consider the recommendations in the report and is inviting the public to comment in response the RFI. This RFI is open for public comment for a period of 60 days and comments must be submitted by August 10, 2018. Comments must be submitted electronically here: https://grants.nih.gov/grants/rfi/rfi.cfm?ID=72.

NIH Working Group Says Chimpanzees Should Not Go to Sanctuary if Their Health Could Be Endangered

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Working Group on Assessing the Safety of Relocating At-Risk Chimpanzees released their report last Friday in which they conclude, “Chimpanzees should be relocated to the federal sanctuary system unless relocation would place the chimpanzee's life, safety, and welfare at extreme risk.” The federal sanctuary system referenced in this report is Chimp Haven in Keithville, LA. NABR has long argued that chimpanzees should not be relocated if their health, safety, or welfare were put at risk by the move. The report goes on to state if there is a disagreement between a research facility and sanctuary, an “independent expert veterinary opinion should be sought to inform the relocation decision.” However, the report included no details about who the independent third party should be nor how impartiality would be determined.

The working group report comes in the wake of revelations that moving elderly or ailing chimpanzees from research facilities to sanctuaries had been adversely affecting their health, and in several cases the move was fatal. Researchers have noted many chimpanzees suffered or died needlessly as a result of transfers to Chimp Haven, as detailed by Speaking of Research. In fact Wired profiled 13 chimpanzees who were moved to the facility in 2014-2015; within 15 months, nine of the chimps had died.

As of March 2018, 232 of the 504 chimpanzees owned by NIH have been moved to the federal sanctuary. Of the remaining chimpanzees that have not been moved, 177 have health issues that would be negatively impacted by relocation. NIH plans to open a 60-day public comment period before NIH Director Francis Collins decides on further chimpanzee relocation. Director Collins ordered an end to NIH funding of chimpanzee research in November 2015.

NIH Director Testifies at FY19 Budget Hearing

Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), appeared before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education on Wednesday to discuss the FY 2019 budget.

Dr. Collins received nearly universal, bipartisan support for the work that NIH has done over the years. Many of the questions predominating the hearing revolved around the current opioid crisis and what work was being done to treat and prevent addiction. During one exchange with Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI), Dr. Collins discussed how technology is rapidly changing the research arena, using a “kidney on a chip” as an example.

The consensus of the hearing was that, in strained financial times, the money spent on NIH was a worthwhile investment given the current opioid crisis and continued need for biomedical research. Dr. Collins noted that nearly 100% of the drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) between 2010 and 2016 benefited in some way by NIH’s involvement.

Please click here if you’d like the view the hearing.

President Signs Omnibus Bill

Earlier today, President Donald Trump signed the FY18 omnibus bill to keep the federal government open until September 30. President Trump had previously announced via Twitter earlier in the morning that he was considering vetoing the bill because of the border wall and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) issues.

There were several animal provisions in the bill. The omnibus will include $30,810,000 (a $2 million increase from FY17) for enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), including continuing inspections of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) locations conducting research with farm animals.

The omnibus also addresses the USDA database issue by noting, “On February 3, 2017, USDA restricted the public's access to the search tool for the Animal Care Inspection System, saying it needed to conduct a comprehensive review of the information on its website. USDA is now posting heavily redacted inspection reports that make it difficult in certain cases for the public to understand the subject of the inspection, assess USDA's subsequent actions, and to evaluate the effectiveness of its enforcement. USDA's actions to date do not meet the requirements in H. Rpt. 115-232 that the online searchable database should allow analysis and comparison of data and include all inspection reports, annual reports, and other documents related to enforcement of animal welfare laws. USDA is directed to comply with these requirements and is reminded that as part of its oversight responsibilities, Congress has the right to make any inquiry it wishes into litigation in which USDA is involved. USDA is directed to respond to any such inquiries fully.”

Level funding of almost $21.5 million for the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Computational Toxicology program was also included in the bill to develop effective alternatives, as required by the 2016 reauthorization of TSCA, the Toxic Substances Control Act. Rejecting a $212 million cut proposed by the President, the bill also increases funding of the National Institute (NIH) National Center for the Advancement of Translational Sciences (NCATS) by over $36 million.

The omnibus didn’t stop there. Aside from encouraging the expedited transfer of NIH’s retired chimpanzees and expansion of the federal sanctuary system, it also contained a prohibition on funding for Class B licenses by the USDA, which has been included several times before. It also prohibits the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) from using funding for “research using canines unless: the scientific objectives of the study can only be met by research with canines; the study has been directly approved by the Secretary; and the study is consistent with the revised Department of Veterans Affairs canine research policy document released on December 18, 2017.” Also, it requires the VA Secretary to submit to both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees a “detailed report outlining under what circumstances canine research may be needed if there are no other alternatives, how often it was used during that time period, and what protocols are in place to determine both the safety and efficacy of the research.”

To read the full 2,232 page FY18 omnibus, please click here.

New NIH Working Group to Develop Guidelines for Chimpanzee Retirement

What to do with nearly 300 retired research chimpanzees has remained a question for quite some time. Currently in three medical research centers, the animals have been awaiting transfer to the only federal retirement sanctuary: Chimp Haven.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) plans to organize a working group for developing recommendations for veterinarians to consider when or if to transfer chimpanzees. This comes after a number of deaths of former research chimps shortly after arriving at the sanctuary. The unavoidable stress of moving the animals, many of which are elderly and sick, has raised concerns leading many to question whether moving the animals at all is a wise endeavor.

“Retirement in place” at the medical research centers, in the animals’ existing social groupings, has been suggested as a preferable alternative. The NIH’s formation of a working group could signal a reevaluation of the subject of research chimpanzee retirement.

Nature covered this story early in the week, which can be read in its entirely here.

Congress Holds Hearing on Funding for Indirect Costs

Last Tuesday, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies held a hearing titled, "The Role of Facilities and Administrative Costs in Supporting NIH-Funded Research." The hearing served as another forum for lawmakers to discuss the Administration’s budget proposal to cut indirect costs at National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded institutions from 30 percent to 10 percent.

Although there were no mentions of animal research, the hearing caused a stir by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. Subcommittee chairman Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) said, “I just want to make sure as we go forward that we don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater, looking for savings and disrupting what’s really a pretty complex, now 70-year-old ecosystem that has produced extraordinary benefits for the American people.”

According to an update by Congressional Quarterly (CQ), witness Keith Yamamoto, vice chancellor for science policy and strategy at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), expressed concern about cutting funding for indirect costs. He said at the hearing: “I spend all my time kind of chasing down regulatory compliance reports. That really is the biggest problem. Not only is it very wasteful of resources, but it really changes the way, the time and energy one can put into thinking about science.”

The full hearing and witness list is available on the subcommittee’s website.

USDA FOIA Logs Posted

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has published on its website a list of all Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests that were submitted to the department in 2017. NABR is analyzing the documents and will report any findings of interest to the biomedical research community.

FOIA was enacted in 1966 to promote transparency and ensure accountability of government officials and agencies. The law permits the public to request records owned by federal agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

To review NABR’s analysis of FY 2016 FOIA requests from animal rights groups please click here (log-in required).

NABR President Rebuts PETA Letter to The Hill

As you’ll recall, last week shortly after National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Dr. Francis Collins said in an interview that “Animals are still crucial to our understanding of how biology works,” People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) fired back with a letter to The Hill calling for a systematic review of animal studies at the NIH. This letter, “A need to rethink spending on animal-based research at NIH,” is part of PETA’s call to defund the NIH because of its use of animal models in lifesaving and live-improving research.

Today, NABR’s President Matt Bailey penned a response letter to The Hill discussing not only the benefits of animal research in medical discovery from conditions like HIV/AIDS, malaria, cancer, and Alzheimer’s, but covering the immense economic impact of taxpayer funded studies. The United States’ investment in research, specifically with the NIH, supports 350,000 jobs and produced $60 billion in new economic activity in 2015.

Take a moment to read Bailey’s letter and share it with your friends, family, colleagues, and on social media and encourage others to do the same.

NIH Director’s Interview Runs Counter to PETA’s Anti-Animal Research Letter in The Hill

Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), explained the importance of animal models in research during an interview with the Washington Examiner last week. The interview focused on proposed cuts to the NIH in President Donald Trump’s budget, as well as information regarding research projects by the NIH.

The reporter stated, “PETA came out this year supporting budget cuts to the NIH, saying that cutting testing on animals would achieve significant savings. What can you tell us about where animal testing stands?” Dr. Collins emphasized the importance of using animals in an ethical and responsible manner, and affirmed that animal studies are a necessary step toward discovering new therapies and cures for diseases: “Animals are still crucial to our understanding of how biology works. Anybody who has looked at the kind of oversight that applies to that I think will be impressed by how much attention goes toward any protocol that we fund that is going to involve animals for research. It has to have veterinarians and members of the public looking constantly at the conditions under which the animals are cared for and how we do everything possible to avoid the creation of unnecessary pain… Animals are still crucial to our understanding of how biology works.”

Click here to watch (or read) the full Washington Examiner interview with Dr. Collins.

Shortly after the interview was published, Emily Trunnell, who is employed by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) published a letter-to-the-editor in The Hill titled, “A need to rethink spending on animal-based research at NIH,” which argued animal studies do not provide results that are useful for humans and that failure rates for news drugs is greater than 95%. Trunnell called for alternative technologies to be used in place of animals, and requested a systematic review by the NIH for all animal experiments. Meanwhile Appropriations committees in Congress are voting to increase the NIH budget.

Spending Bills Approved and Advanced on Capitol Hill

Late last week the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a $20.5 billion agriculture spending bill. The Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act will fund programs at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for FY2018. The bill includes a $4.8 billion increase to the amount proposed in President Donald Trump’s budget blueprint, but $7.9 billion less than the previous year’s funding level. Of interest to the animal research community is the allocation of $953.2 million for the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the agency that regulates and inspects animal research laboratories. This is $143.2 million above Trump’s budget request for APHIS and $7 million above the funding level for FY2017. The bill was approved by the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Committee on Tuesday.

Also last week the House Appropriations Committee passed a $156 billion Labor-HHS-Education spending bill for FY 2018. The Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Bill contains $21.6 billion more than the amount proposed by Trump and $34.7 billion more than the funding level for FY2018. The spending bill contains $35.2 billion for the NIH ($8.6 billion increase to the Trump’s budget proposal and $1.1 billion increase to FY 2017 allocation) and was approved by the subcommittee on July 13. The bill contains language that directs the NIH to develop a plan to speed up the process of transferring retired research chimpanzees to retirement sanctuaries.

Please stay tuned for more important updates from NABR during the Appropriations process.

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