Ethical Antibodies—Researchers Deciding that "Animal Welfare Matters"

On October 16, 2015, Alice Ra’anan and Bill Yates of the American Physiological Society published a blog post for Speaking of Research entitled “Caveat Emptor,” with the subtitle “A current USDA case involving a major antibody producer underscores the need for the research community to demonstrate its commitment to high standards of animal welfare.” The post (the third such post to appear on http://speakingofresearch.com) describes the USDA’s longstanding allegations of Animal Welfare Act (AWA) violations against one of the world’s largest research antibody suppliers, Santa Cruz Biotechnology (SCBT). The post details the AWA violations alleged against SCBT in a 2005 settlement; three USDA complaints filed July 2012, November 2014, and August 2015; and the August 18–21, 2015, hearing before a USDA administrative law judge. The authors state that, although these remain allegations, as no final legal judgment has been reached, “Nevertheless, the seriousness of the USDA’s charges against SCBT demands attention.” The authors also note that the most recent complaint alleged that SCBT had “demonstrated bad faith by misleading” the USDA about the “existence of an undisclosed location” housing regulated animals. The Animal Welfare Institute urges you to read this post at http://speakingofresearch.com/2015/10/16/caveat-emptor/. The following is an excerpt:

Animal Welfare Matters

On February 14, 2014, Cat Ferguson wrote in The New Yorker about alleged animal welfare problems at SCBT, “Valuable Antibodies at a High Cost [http://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/valuable-antibodies-at-a-high-cost].” On September 25, 2015, science writer Meredith Wadman published an opinion article in the San Jose Mercury News about the 4-day hearing the previous month. In “No excuse for cruelty to goats raised for medical research [http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/general-news/20150925/meredith-wadman-no-excuse-for-cruelty-to-goats-raised-for-medical-research],” Wadman opined that researchers were “the only constituency that Santa Cruz cares about,” and urged them to “weigh in” using their purchasing power. According to Wadman, Matt Scott of the Carnegie Institution for Science and Pamela Björkman of the California Institute of Technology have stopped buying antibodies from SCBT. Wadman concluded by asking, “Is it too much to ask other scientists to follow suit?”

Testimony from USDA Veterinary Medical Officer Marcy Rosendale was reported in an account [https://awionline.org/archived-action-ealerts/key-hearing-dc-august-18-august-20#updates] of the August 18-20, 2015 hearing posted by the Animal Welfare Institute. According to this report, Rosendale said she had not observed the same number of animal welfare problems she found at SCBT at other antibody production facilities she had visited.

There is growing recognition that to ensure the rigor of their work, scientists need more information about the antibodies they use actually, i.e., technical specifications such as what part of the target protein the antibody binds to. Perhaps it is also time to pay more attention to how those antibodies are produced.

USDA inspections are a matter of public record, but meeting the requirements of the AWA should only be the beginning. Antibody producers should be encouraged to take additional steps to affirm their commitment to animal welfare, such as by seeking independent accreditation of their production facilities through AAALAC. The point is that researchers and antibody producers alike must find tangible ways to demonstrate a commitment to high standards of animal care.

A detailed report on the case against SCBT, including the historic hearing and its consequences, will be featured in the next issue of the AWI Quarterly.