The aim of the 3Rs principles is to Replace as many animal experiments as possible, Reduce the number of laboratory animals used, and keep their stress to a minimum (Refine).

Institute of Human Biology

The Institute of Human Biology (IHB) was founded in Basel for the purpose of using and promoting new human model systems such as miniature cultured organs in drug discovery and the early phases of drug development. Recent breakthroughs in the use of human cell culture technologies have shown that they can predict clinical safety, efficacy and pharmacokinetics with great accuracy. The data from these new tissue and disease models will supplement the in silico algorithms used for modelling and simulation. Work in this emerging field focuses on organoids – tiny, self-assembled three-dimensional tissue constructs derived from stem cells – and organ-on-a-chip technology. Such next-generation cultures can be designed to replicate the structural and functional complexity of a human organ or express certain aspects of it, for example only to produce certain tissue types. Organ-on-a-chip technology enables researchers to cultivate human cells representing organs under physiological conditions such as mechanical stimulation.

The institute brings together researchers from the scientific community and industry to promote the wide-scale introduction of human model systems in pharmaceutical research and development.

Project name: Institute of Human Biology
Charta articles: 1, 2

Reducing the number of animals by introducing a new method for better evaluating the dynamics of metastatic burden in vivo

Globally increasing levels of cancer represent one of the biggest challenges for public health in the 21st century. Metastases are the most frequent cause of death in cancer patients, and in vivo models for the spread of metastases are of paramount importance for all approaches to developing medicines. The non-invasive monitoring of metastatic spread in mice usually calls for sophisticated imaging processes, which are time-consuming and require frequent anaesthesia. This stresses the animals and leads to a greater experimental variance. Using dual luciferase enzymes to monitor the metastatic burden in living animals reduces data variability, leading to a reduction in animal numbers. 

Project name: Method for better evaluating the dynamics of metastatic burden in vivo
Charter articles: 1, 2

Replacing animals by imitating the interactions between synoviocytes and endothelial cells in vitro

Animal models do not always reflect the pathogenesis of human diseases and are associated with a high level of stress for the animals (e.g., in the case of rheumatoid arthritis). To replace the use of animals, a new system was developed and implemented that uses human synovial fibroblasts from patients with rheumatoid arthritis. In this procedure, the complex micro-environment in the mouse’s inflamed joint is replaced, thereby dispensing with a rodent arthritis model involving a high level of stress for the animals.

Project name: Replacing animals by imitating the interactions between synoviocytes and endothelial cells in vitro
Charter articles: 1, 2

Reducing animal numbers by using a novel device

In this study, a novel device for the topical application of medication to the eye was developed with the aim of simplifying accurate dosing, supporting the application of treatments to the eye, and increasing patient comfort while the treatment is being applied. This approach led to a design and analysis that allowed the total number of animals to be reduced tenfold.

Project name: Using sound statistical principles
Charter articles: 1, 2

Biomedical Research Awareness Day (BRAD)

One Interpharma member will be holding its fifth annual Biomedical Research Awareness Day (BRAD) in 2023. BRAD was created in the United States by Americans for Medical Progress (AMP) in 2016. This day is an opportunity to inform company employees and make them aware of the need for and the benefits of animal research for the development of new medicines and treatments. This Interpharma member will be celebrating BRAD worldwide in the week commencing 9 October with numerous presentations highlighting various examples of human-animal interactions, with a focus on the interaction with animals as part of treatment. The member company’s global and local progress will also be recognised at the 3Rs (Reduce, Refine and Replace) awards, as well as its efforts to establish veterinary and ethical supervision of all projects involving animals that are awarded to third-party suppliers.

Project name: BRAD
Charter articles: 3, 9

Reducing stress in study animals

The current standard procedure for obtaining genetic material for genotyping transgenic zebra fish is to clip their fins. This is an invasive procedure that requires an anaesthetic and can be stressful for the fish. The less invasive technique of skin swabbing does not require an anaesthetic and no tissue is surgically removed. The fish cells are removed from the fish’s flank with a swab or micro brush. This technique is quicker and less stressful for the animals.

Project name: Obtaining genetic material from zebra fish
Charter articles: 1, 2

Introduction of a fourth “R prize” for the category of “Responsibility”

To acknowledge the support of staff who are not directly involved in in vivo work, but promote transparency in the field of animal research, for instance, one member company introduced a fourth “R prize” in 2022 for the category of “Responsibility”. In 2022, this prize went to an employee from the communications department who helped to increase the company’s transparency in the field of animal experiments. In 2023, the prize will be awarded to an employee who has provided technical support for the company’s Biomedical Research Awareness Day (BRAD).

Project name: Awards
Charter article: 3

National promotion of the 3Rs by the 3RCC

The 3Rs Competence Centre (3RCC) was founded in 2018 with the aim of promoting the implementation of the 3Rs principles in science. Its partners include 11 Swiss universities (represented by swissuniversities), the association of Switzerland’s research-based pharmaceutical companies (Interpharma), the Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office (FSVO) and Swiss Animal Protection (SAP).

The 3RCC is financed by the Swiss government and Interpharma and receives benefits in kind from member institutions that must be equal to the value of the resources provided by the government. The 3Rs Research Foundation, the predecessor of the 3RCC, provided funding of around CHF 20 million to research projects between 1987 and 2018.

In 2021, the Swiss government launched the National Research Programme “Advancing 3Rs – Animals, Research and Society” (NRP 79), providing funds of CHF 20 million in the period up to 2028 for the purpose of further accelerating the development of 3Rs projects. The second targeted call was published in 2022, with the aim of implementing 3Rs methods effectively in practice.

It will provide total funding of CHF 920,000 to projects over a maximum of four years.

Project name: 3RCC
Charter article: 2

“Innovation in the 3Rs” programme

One member company has set up an “Innovation in the 3Rs” programme. The aim of this programme is to inspire and support the member company’s scientists in rethinking the way they conduct their research by providing them with the resources they need to develop and validate new ways of replacing, reducing and refining animal experiments. The “Innovation in the 3Rs” programme selects and supports novel research projects that would otherwise be unlikely to come to fruition. In 2022, five reduction and refinement projects were supported. The projects supported in 2022 have highlighted new ways in which the member company can reduce the number of animals needed for discovering and developing drugs by means of organs-on-a-chip, artificial intelligence (AI) and organoids, and how it can improve the experiences of the animals being studied by using digital home cages and delayed-release analgesics.

Project name: Innovation in the 3Rs
Charter articles: 1, 2, 3

The Global Animal Technician Recognition Day celebrates the heroes of animal care

One member celebrated for the first time the Global Animal Technician Recognition Day, a day dedicated to recognising and appreciating the hard work and responsibility of animal technicians who care for the research animals.
Animal technicians are the heroes of animal care. They work tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure that animals are healthy, comfortable and well cared for. They provide food, water, shelter and medical care to animals in their care, and they are responsible for ensuring that the animals are always treated with respect and dignity.
Animal technicians play a vital role in advancing scientific knowledge and improving animal welfare. They are responsible for carrying out animal research and testing, which helps to develop new treatments and cures for human and animal diseases.
To show appreciation for their work, people from all vivariums across the world met together to celebrate the Global Animal Technician Recognition Day. Each technician was presented with a gift to recognise their efforts which was done locally at each site, while on a joint global call so all could interact with each other.
In conclusion, the Global Animal Technician Recognition Day is an important day to recognise and appreciate the hard work and dedication of animal technicians and will be an annual event from now on.

Project name: Global Animal Technician Recognition Day
Charter articles: 3

Animal Welfare 4R Day

We know that working in animal research is both rewarding and challenging. That is why it is important to create an atmosphere so that experts working in animal research feel supported with their emotional and physical stress. Culture of Care programmes are being encouraging self-care, offering mental health improvement tools, prioritising animal welfare (e.g., through education, animal rehoming, etc.), and having recognition programmes to appreciate the efforts.

The most recent Animal Welfare 4R Day acknowledged the impact of the in vivo staff and their contributions. In addition, inspiring presentations from internal and external leaders were presented on:

  • How openness and transparency about animal use in science and medical research can improve public understanding and acceptance
  • Compassion fatigue from the perspective of a researcher working with animals and a manager leading other researchers who work with animals
  • How to be resilient when compassion fatigue is present

Project name: Animal Welfare 4R Day
Charter article: 3

Creating a Culture of Care

The well-established 3Rs (Replace, Refine, Reduce) are being extended to include a fourth R, which represents Responsibility. Responsibility is defined as ensuring that animals used for humans are provided with the highest level of care and their quality of life is maximised. Another important aspect of the responsibility is the environment created for those working with animals. It is understood that caring for employees will enable colleagues to bring their best to their work and they will in turn provide excellent care for the animals in their charge. The well-being and satisfaction of employees working with animals is influenced by various factors, such as the environmental conditions, ergonomic aspects as well as day-to-day interactions with animals they care for, peers, managers, and researchers. It is important to acknowledge their contributions equally. As the Culture of Care is being built, it is clear, when speaking about animal care and use, it is done transparently and with pride.

Project name: Creating a Culture of Care
Charter article: 3

Refinement in vivarium

The objective is to provide scientific evidence that the housing conditions of laboratory animals must meet their species-specific basic needs in order to avoid unnecessary suffering or effects on their psychological and physiological health and thus the reliability of the data obtained on them.

Refinement of housing and handling conditions leads to reduced stress and fear in laboratory animals. Usage of unique special large group housing (rat colony cage, mouse colony cage, floor housing) under standard husbandry conditions with highly improved animal welfare leads to high-quality research data, which, e.g., allow to predict efficacy of drugs in humans.

Refinement Teams test and establish various processes that can improve handling and husbandry conditions to improve animal welfare. Investigating effects of different refinement try-outs is performed by collecting behavioural data in various in vivostudies. Special focus lies on the environmental enrichment of laboratory animals, e.g., strain, and studying specific use of nesting and bedding material. Through the improvement of housing and handling conditions (e.g., via tunnel handling), a reduction of stress-associated behaviour is aimed for.

Furthermore, another focus is the improvement of surroundings of animals in in vivo studies, e.g., better management of the body temperature during anaesthesia, a more pleasant surface of weight stations for mice or the usage of “dummies” for trainings (“Mimicky Mouse” or “Cita Rat”).

The goal is to clarify different preferences of mice and strains used for in vivo studies for specific environmental enrichment via preference testing, including change or alternation, as well as various tests to determine stress levels via biomarker measurements when specific refinement procedures are being implemented (e.g., effect of reducing the number of animals in a Type III cage, taking along the animals’ old nest during cage changing or a less frequent cage change on demand-orientated basis).

Project name: Refinement in vivarium
Charter articles: 1, 2

Project Capricorn

One member developed an animal free recombinant alternative to a native goat blocking agent used in immunoassays by applying single B cell cloning technology. This project opened the door to replace more goat antibodies with animal-free products and thereby significantly reducing the animal numbers in their business.

Project name: Project Capricorn
Charter articles: 1,2

Non-aversive handling

Non-aversive handling (NAH) is a new way of interacting with laboratory rodents which has been shown to be significantly less stressful than traditional methods. NAH methods avoid use of the tail to capture the animal; instead, a cupped hand (cupping) or a tunnel (tunnel handling) is used to pick up an animal.

The Interpharma member has been sharing experiences, tools and learnings to help drive the implementation of NAH. There are different stages of implementation from early stage theoretical and practical training to the running of pilot studies on different mouse strains and ultimately the implementation of NAH-only policies. The goal is to achieve NAH-only policies for relevant species company-wide.

Project name: Non-aversive handling
Charter articles: 1, 2, 3

In-house training

Each year, one member company offers a range of officially recognised training courses and a special training day to enable employees who work with research animals to fulfil their statutory training requirements. The subjects covered during the training day include:

  • information about the positioning of hydrogel, a new means of providing rodents with fluid
  • administering medication to mice via micro-pipettes – pros and cons
  • presentation on network/breeding programme, welfare and research activities at Basel Zoo
  • information about wildlings, a model for human immune responses
  • mRNA-based vaccines
  • chemical product safety
  • environmental impact assessment: current regulatory requirements and options for refinement

Project name: In-house training
Charter articles: 1, 3, 9