Decreasing animal testing and drug withdrawals

Drug development is taking huge steps all the time – more individualized drugs are being developed to replace general medicines. Individualized medicines are tailored for each patient and take into account the genetic nature of the disease, mode of transportation or other patient-specific issues.

Whether we speak about general or patient specific drugs, the development of a new drug always begins in the laboratory. It goes through animal experiments and subsequent human clinical trials. Trials point to a marketing authorization of the required data on safety and efficacy. The marketing authorization for the medicinal product is granted by the European Medicines Agency EMA or national medicines agencies, such as Fimea in Finland. A new drug may not be authorized without the necessary experiments on animals. The industry’s goal is to reduce animal testing and to replace them with other methods as well as to avoid the pain caused to animals.

Stem cell technology could have a strong impact on how new drugs are developed and tested in the future.

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We are using stem cells to build human heart tissue, eye cells and many other tissues, which are ideal tools for testing new drugs for safety and function. Drugs tested on specific human tissues give more accurate and relevant information on how specific drugs work for humans. Using stem cell technology in drug development and testing also speeds up the process of getting safe and more effective drugs to patients.

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Our researchers have developed equipment for drug permeability through tissue. The device is developed for drug testers and medicine developers and it can test 6 samples at the same time. In brief, the device mimics human body conditions at +37°C and various other parameters. When the device is fully tested, it can partly replace animal testing.

The device now has it’s own Tekes-funded DrugPermeA research project, which aims to tackle the problems of animal testing by developing and promoting an innovative and versatile microfluidic in vitro device alternative for tissue permeability studies.

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Animal testing will still be needed for drug development and research, but human stem cells can decrease the number of animals used in research in the future. Human tissue tests in laboratories could be done several times for different drug combinations before any animal testing takes place. Stem cells could also significantly shorten the time it takes to develop a new drug and lower the costs involved.

Another use of stem cells is to model human tissues and organs to model diseases. This helps us understand and treat certain diseases better, such as MS, for example. It can also help to develop safe and effective patient-specific drugs.

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