NAVS Urges Changes to Primate Research Committee

Rheus Resize

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) has assembled a 15-member ad hoc committee at the request of Congress to “examine the current role of and future needs for nonhuman primates in biomedical research funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).” The committee held its first meeting on April 5, with representatives from NAVS in virtual attendance.

It quickly became apparent that the committee composition is overtly lopsided, leaning heavily in favor of members who have built their careers on the use of primates as a scientific model. In fact, while the stated scope of the committee mentions numerous tasks associated with new approach methodologies (NAMs)—a descriptive term that encompasses non-animal approaches­—a review of committee members’ bios revealed that only two committee members have a background in the development and use of NAMs.

Further, during the meeting NAVS pressed the committee on whether ethics would be considered in the scope of their work. While committee members stated that ethics would be considered over the course of their work, only one committee member has a background in animal research ethics.

Noting the clear imbalance in the committee’s composition, NAVS submitted a letter to the committee urging them to recruit and appoint members with a greater diversity of ethical and professional insights, including those with expertise in bioethics and human-based research models. Additionally, we asked that the committee increase transparency of the types of research projects members have worked on and disclose all conflicts of interest of committee members. You can view the letter here.

As we wait to see how this committee’s composition shakes out, we are reminded of a past National Institutes of Health (NIH) workshop that was convened at the request of Congress to review ethical policies and processes with respect to nonhuman primates to ensure appropriate justification for animal research protocols. Rather than addressing Congress’s intended scope, the NIH convened a group made up largely of scientists who conducted research using nonhuman primate models. The result was a report on the importance of using nonhuman primates in research and biased justifications for the continued use of nonhuman primates. The workshop was largely viewed as a sham by those outside the nonhuman primate research community and as a missed opportunity to take a concerted look at the ethical justifications, or lack thereof, of using nonhuman primates in research. A greater diversity of voices among the current NASEM committee members would go a long way toward addressing concerns—by the public and members of Congress—of a pre-determined bias toward maintenance of “business as usual.” This topic deserves a thorough review. We hope that, with our comments in mind, NASEM will build a committee that can more adequately address the scope set forth by Congress.