Press release November 2020
The world’s first Virtual Human Platform based exclusively on human biology
Assessing the safety of chemicals and pharmaceuticals without using laboratory animals
How great would it be if we could assess the safety of chemicals and pharmaceuticals without the use of laboratory animals? To be able to test the safety of chemicals solely based on human physiology and biology, including such vulnerable groups as infants, the elderly or the sick? Researchers from, among others, Utrecht University, University of Applied Sciences Utrecht (HU) and the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment are developing a Virtual Human Platform to assess the safety of chemicals and medicines without the use of laboratory animals. The consortium will receive 9.9 million Euros from the Dutch Research Agenda: Research on Routes by Consortia (NWA-ORC) for this purpose. Thanks to the contribution of foundations, government and private sector organisations, the total funding comes to 11.2 million Euros.
Imagine a world in which we can accurately test the safety of chemicals and pharmaceuticals for our health without the use of laboratory animals. Imagine that we know how these substances interact with human biology and physiology and how they can be used safely at home, school or at work during the course of our lives. This is the vision of the future behind the NWA-ORC project ‘Virtual Human Platform for safety assessment’ (VHP), led by Juliette Legler external link, Professor of Toxicology at Utrecht University, Cyrille Krul (HU) and Anne Kienhuis (RIVM).
Limited predictive value
We use half a million animals annually in the Netherlands, 100 million worldwide’, Legler explains. ‘Thirty per cent of this is for legally required toxicological and safety tests. And we are going to use more and more animals for testing, taking into account vaccine development, cell and gene therapy. The problem with using animals is their limited ability to predict effects on human health. Scenarios relevant for human health cannot always be replicated in animal experiments. Moreover, the use of animal testing is less and less accepted by society.’
“The problem with using animals is their limited ability to predict effects on human health”
According to Legler, the current system of assessing the safety of chemicals and pharmaceuticals based on animal testing is outdated. ‘It is slow and leaves little room for innovation. Developments in biotechnology are proceeding very rapidly, and our current system of safety assessment is unnecessarily slowing us down if we don’t keep up with the innovations. The Dutch House of Representatives recently debated the use of animal testing and the transition to animal-free innovations. Our project is at the heart of society. It shows that the transition to innovative and societally relevant science and policy is possible without animal testing.’
“The use of laboratory animals is becoming less and less accepted by society”
Legler says: ‘Through co-creation with stakeholders, we will develop the world’s first Virtual Human Platform to determine the safety of chemicals and pharmaceuticals for human health based solely on human biology. By integrating innovations in data science, human tissue culture models and transition management, we will accelerate the transition to animal-free safety assessment. I am incredibly proud of that.’