«The lived Culture of Care in animal welfare concerns everyone.»

Interview with Dr. Tobias Schnitzer

What is the influence of the Culture of Care on corporate decisions at Roche?

TS: We are aware that the use of animals in medical research comes with huge responsibility. We take the concerns around animal experiments in medical research very seriously and are committed to handling animals in a responsible manner. Everyone who works with animals at Roche or on behalf of Roche is committed to treating the animals entrusted to them with respect. We inspect all our service providers regularly before and during the collaboration and ensure that they are committed to complying with Roche standards. Culture of Care is a central factor in corporate decisions involving in vivo research. We offer the best possible conditions both to the animals entrusted to our care and also to our employees. This holistic view characterizes the Culture of Care. Our management sets the framework conditions for an innovative work environment and contributes significantly to the further development of animal welfare.

What does the well-being of staff have to do with animal welfare?

Our employees and animal welfare guide our considerations at all times. One example of this is the new in vivo research facility, Building 098. This building offers attractive working conditions – an ultramodern environment for both animals and humans, where innovation is made possible and fostered. It symbolizes the commitment of Roche and our employees to the Culture of Care as it is lived. The new research facility is completely digital and allows countless research parameters to be gathered online. At the same time, it protects the health of our employees: cages are automatically cleaned and replenished, which reduces allergic reactions among the staff. Mobile robots manoeuvre heavy loads, reducing physical stresses and strains. Our experience in Building 098 shows that appreciated staff are mindful of animal welfare – a high level of animal welfare reduces the burden on staff.

Did you have to suspend research operations during the pandemic?

The pandemic has tested our processes. For all our animal facilities we maintain “disaster plans” that describe in minute detail how we maintain a high-quality and ethical animal housing system during a disaster. This helped us a lot with the coronavirus crisis – we were prepared. We could therefore ensure that the animals were adequately cared for and monitored at all times. We immediately changed our modus operandi: in consultation with breeding facilities, we procured animals with modified priority and abstained where procurement was not necessary. Both the commitment of all employees and management as well as investments by the company are indispensable in order to extend the Culture of Care. It’s impossible without both elements!

We also ensured that ongoing experiments were adequately monitored in order to prevent the unnecessary use of animals. And we protected our employees by allocating them to smaller groups. In this way, we always had sufficient qualified staff available – even if individual groups had to isolate because of illness. We thus maintained the Culture of Care at the accustomed standard without negative effects. We are proud of the fact that we were able to keep the animal facility and research operations going.

How did you deal with the difficulties of the pandemic?

The pandemic presented a particularly extreme situation for Roche as well. We focused our attention on our employees and together tried to get through this challenging time as well as possible. To this end, we provided them with support in setting up facilities to work from home or offered programmes to improve mental and physical well-being. What is important, is that even under the exceptional conditions of the pandemic, our employees never lose their passion and hence their sense of the need for animal welfare. We countered the possibility of such empathy fatigue through careful management of the animal stock at the sites. As a result, the workload for our colleagues remained within easily manageable limits and we successfully avoided chronic overload and associated signs of fatigue. Nevertheless, the pandemic was and still is challenging – we are looking forward to a step-by-step return to normality.

“The lived Culture of Care in animal welfare concerns everyone.”

What next with the Culture of Care at Roche?

The lived Culture of Care in animal welfare concerns everyone. Both the commitment of all employees and management as well as investments by the company are essential for extending the Culture of Care. It is not possible without both these elements! The culture is lived top down by management and deeply embedded in the consciousness of our employees, who live the culture in their day-to-day practice. Our investments in the Culture of Care underpin our aspirations. Both components show that we are sustainably and seriously striving for change. Let me describe an example: we sponsor Roche “3Rs Awards” worldwide, which we have been conferring every two years since 2008. With this award, we are raising awareness of the 3Rs principles, stimulating dialogue on the issue among employees and promoting research on alternatives to animal experiments. The sustainable implementation of a Culture of Care is a process that can never end, but must be constantly advanced and developed further. We need to keep questioning our processes and developing them further. Only in this way can animal welfare be continuously improved.