South Korea: Groups urge new administration to prioritise investment in replacement of animals in testing and medical research

Humane Society International

  • Brandon Laufenberg/istock

International animal protection organisation Humane Society International and the Korean Society for Alternatives to Animal Experiments are encouraging the country’s new administration to prioritise investment in more predictive, human-specific approaches to testing and medical research instead of cruel and often poorly predictive animal models [1]. In a joint submission to the Citizens Advisory Committee for Presidential Transition, the organisations contend that greater investment in leading-edge technologies such as human organs-on-a-chip, computational systems biology and related infrastructures are essential for advancing public health and economic growth alongside the European Union and the United States [2].

The main points of the proposed policy include:

  • Mandatory use of validated non-animal test methods by governmental ministries and industry, and support for improving infrastructure to promote the practice of these new methods
  • Support of human biology-based science with cooperation of ministries, academics and industries

In 2016, Korea revised its cosmetics legislation to require the use of animal testing alternatives where available. However, industries say that infrastructure and training are not sufficient in practice. In addition, the number of chemicals that requires submission of test data has extensively increased since the Act on the Registration and Evaluation of Chemicals (K-REACH) came in to effect in 2015. Yet unlike in the EU, the use of methods replacing animal testing in Korea is not widely encouraged, even though these methods are in general more predictive and have the potential to be more cost effective. Although Korea strives to be a world leader in bioscience research, more active effort is needed to share new technology across ministries and to harmonise with international policies, particularly in fields where animal use for testing is highest, such as medical research, pharmaceutical and pesticide testing.

Prof Lim Kyung-Min, HSI Korea science advisor and executive board member of KSAAE, said “Our organizations look forward to working with the Moon Jae-in administration to advance science development policies that respect all lives and for Korea to lead the world in biological and medical research.”

HSI is undergoing legislative discussion with Assembly members to prioritise the use of non-animal methods with increased support for infrastructure and to prevent repeat and redundant animal testing.

Borami Seo,

Note to editors:

1. Despite unprecedented investments worldwide, development of new drugs and other potential disease interventions remain elusive and immensely expensive, with more than 90 percent of compounds entering clinical trials failing to gain regulatory approval, despite appearing safe and effective in pre-clinical animal tests

2. Examples of large-scale, human-focused research in developed countries:

  • US Tissue Chip for Drug Screening – five-year, US$142 million collaboration between the US National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration and the military to develop human tissue chips that accurately model the structure and function of human organs to help predict drug safety in humans more rapidly and effectively
  • EUToxRisk – six-year, €30 million European project aimed at driving toxicological testing away from ‘black box’ animal testing towards a toxicological assessment based on human cell responses and a comprehensive mechanistic understanding of cause-consequence relationships of chemical adverse effects
  • BD2K – US$55.5 million ‘big data to knowledge project’ aimed at supporting and the development of innovative tools to maximize and accelerate the integration of ‘big data’ and data science into biomedical research
  • STEMBANCC – five-year, €55.6 million project aimed at engineering human stem cells for biological assays of novel drugs and predictive toxicology