Most pharmacokinetic evaluations require only a few days, so a single chimpanzee can be used for testing many drugs each year.
Cutting costs: repeated use of a chimpanzee
Repeated use of chimpanzees for various experiments is not new—many individuals now in sanctuary have long histories of enduring hundreds of procedures in laboratories, many for more than 40 years. However, a 1997 NIH-backed effort to maximize the use of each and every chimpanzee pushed what an individual chimpanzee must endure to new extremes.
As stated in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) 1997 report: “If the chimpanzee is to remain a viable animal model for research, mechanisms for increasing the cost effectiveness of chimpanzee breeding, maintenance, and research must be developed.” (1) In response, NIH established the Chimpanzee Management Program (ChiMP) to address the “optimization of the research use of chimpanzees.” (2)
A “surplus” supply
In the late 1990s, the U.S. government found itself with more chimpanzees than research needed. This “surplus” was the result of an aggressive breeding program initiated in the 1980s when the scientific community believed chimpanzees would be crucial to HIV/AIDS research and would die in that research. When it turned out that they were not a good model and that HIV infections did not lead to AIDS and death, the laboratories were left with an excess of chimpanzees who were expensive to maintain, especially if not being used in active research protocols for which the housing facility would have received private or federal dollars for their care and use.
In 1997, the cost of maintaining a chimpanzee in a lab setting was between $15-30 per day. (3) Calculated over an estimated 45 to 55 year lifespan, the lifetime cost of maintaining a chimpanzee in a lab can be nearly $900,000. (3) NIH’s solution to the high cost of housing and caring for chimpanzees was to promote centralization of large numbers of chimpanzees in select facilities and repeated use of individuals. “Such large [financial] figures,” according to NIH, “argue for careful population management and multiple use whenever possible.” (4)
An expensive proposition
The costs for maintaining chimpanzees in laboratories continued to escalate in the last decade. For example, around 2008, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center received around $3 million a year to care for 189 chimpanzees (PFA chimpanzees included), which equals $45 per day per chimpanzee in federal funding. In 2007, Yerkes National Primate Center received $76 per day per chimpanzee. (5)
In addition to cost efficiency, NIH’s solution of aggregating chimpanzees at fewer facilities allowed for centralized distribution of their blood cells, serum, antibodies, tissue, and other biological specimens (typically requiring a knockdown to obtain) to a range of labs that might otherwise not be able to afford to maintain chimpanzees. “When appropriate,” fees may also be charged for the use of chimpanzees. (6)
At a 2001 meeting of the ChiMP Working Group, one NIH researcher noted that:
There is a high degree of cooperation among various NIAID [NIH], FDA and CDC researchers in an effort to make the best possible use of every chimpanzee that is strategically used in a series of sequential experiments with a variety of viruses. (7)
Besides NIH’s recommendation (from their 1997 report) on using each chimpanzee as many times as possible, facilities also have a financial incentive to ‘lease’ the chimpanzees out to other researchers. For example, MD Anderson has received nearly $1 million dollars in ‘use fees’ for lending out their chimpanzees over the last 5 years. (8)
The Report from the May 18, 2005 meeting of the ChiMP Working Group notes that:
Although variable among sites, income at [chimpanzee] research facilities derives from … short-term use fees associated with acute research studies that are funded, for example, by pharmaceutical companies, the substantial use fee required when members of a colony are selected for studies using potentially chronic viruses, and the use fees for safety and efficacy studies of drugs and biologics. (9)
With such policies in place, many chimpanzees face a lifetime of “repeated use.” Since it is not unusual for captive chimpanzees to live an average of 45 to 55 years, this policy could mean decades of multiple experiments, knockdowns, frequent anesthesia, and other procedures. The emphasis on centralizing and recycling chimpanzees into multiple research protocols adds to the potential misery and suffering these sensitive and cognizant individuals will endure.
(1) National Resource Council (NRC), Institute for Laboratory Animal Research (1997). Chimpanzees in Research: Strategies for Their Ethical Care, Management, and Use, Chapter 4. Washington, DC, USA: National Academy Press.
(2) ChiMP Working Group, Minutes from meeting on May 17, 1998, obtained by Project R&R through a FOIA request from April 28, 2004.
(3) National Resource Council (NRC), Institute for Laboratory Animal Research (1997). Chimpanzees in Research: Strategies for Their Ethical Care, Management, and Use, Chapter 4. Washington, DC, USA: National Academy Press. See also: Dyke B., Williams-Blangero S., Mamelka P., Goodwin W., “Future Costs of Chimpanzees in U.S. Research Institutions,” ILAR J. (1995); 37(4):193-198.
(4) National Resource Council (NRC), Institute for Laboratory Animal Research (1997). Chimpanzees in Research: Strategies for Their Ethical Care, Management, and Use, Chapter 4. Washington, DC, USA: National Academy Press.
(5) Data available at http://report.nih.gov/crisp
(6) Cohen, J. 2007. The Endangered Lab Chimp. Science. January 26, Vol. 315: 450-452
(7) ChiMP Working Group, Minutes from meeting on May 16, 2001, obtained by Project R&R through a FOIA request from April 28, 2004.
(8) MD Anderson Grant 2U42RR015090; “Chimpanzee Biomedical Research Resource. Received in response to a January 14, 2009 FOIA request from Project R&R.
(9) NIH National Center for Research Resources, Report of the Chimpanzee Management Plan Working Group to the National Advisory Research Resources Council, May 18, 2005.