On 15 May 2020, the European reference laboratory for alternatives to animal testing (EURL ECVAM) published a recommendation on non-animal-derived antibodies, stating that: “animals should no longer be used for the development and production of antibodies for research, regulatory, diagnostic and therapeutic applications". Experts from within VIB and from several Belgian biotech and pharmaceutical companies caution against a general ban.

EURL ECVAM is of the opinion that synthetic recombinant antibody libraries are a valid non-animal alternative and considers that EU member states should no longer authorize animal immunization “where robust scientific justification is lacking”. 

Antibodies are generated and used for a wide range of applications in scientific research, in clinical diagnostics and as therapies to treat different diseases in humans and animals. Antibodies or antibody fragments also have wider applications beyond the biomedical field. They are for instance also being developed as biopesticides. For the generation of these antibodies both animal and non-animal approaches exist.

The technology to retrieve potentially useful antibodies from non-immune, man-made libraries has been developed over the last three decades. The technology is still improving, however, for a variety of applications, including scientific research, diagnostics, medicinal and other products, they cannot fully compete with the antibodies derived from immunized animals. 

Animal-derived antibodies are generally produced faster, easier and at more affordable cost. For other applications and for targets of high complexity, the animal-derived antibodies require less downstream engineering, or they can simply not be replaced by antibodies generated without an animal immunization step. 

Animal welfare is considered very important, and immunization protocols have been optimized to reduce the number of animals necessary and limit any discomfort. The immunization causes only a very marginal distress to the animals. 

Animal immunization for the development and production of antibodies should remain possible, as a ban on immunization would result in substantial potential societal benefits being lost. European governments are strongly advised not to support such a ban.

Read the full document here

Read the EMBO Opinion paper here

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