In response to Dr. Collins’s statement today, the Texas Biomedical Research Institute agrees that chimpanzees living under the stewardship of research centers should continue to be provided with an appropriate environment for their physical and psychological needs. However, we are disappointed in most of the responses of NIH to the Council of Council’s recommendations.
Although some important biomedical research can be conducted with an initial pool of 50 chimpanzees, this arbitrarily chosen number is not sufficient to enable the rapid development of better preventions and cures for hepatitis B and C, which kill a million people every year; or to enable maximal progress in the development and safety testing of novel therapeutic monoclonal antibodies and other immune modulators for treating autoimmune diseases and some forms of cancer.
It also is not sufficient to enable research at a maximal pace on preventions and cures of diseases which are contributing to the extinction of chimpanzees and gorillas. These include Ebola hemorrhagic fever and chimpanzee AIDS. More than 40 percent of the chimpanzees studied by Jane Goodall are infected with the virus that causes AIDS in chimpanzees, and their death rate is 10-16 times that of uninfected chimpanzees.
As the number of chimpanzees eligible for research decreases below 50 as a result of death from natural causes, the pace of research will be slowed even more, and human and chimpanzee lives will be lost unnecessarily due to delays in bringing new drugs and vaccines to market.
Moreover, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) report recognized that new, emerging, or re-emerging diseases that are certain to arise may present challenges that require the use of chimpanzees. In fact, hundreds of chimpanzees have been required for research on each past occasion when a new disease that required research with chimpanzees emerged. The IOM report recommended that NIH establish a chimpanzee breeding program to preserve a pool of chimpanzees for future research needs, and such a breeding program is essential to protecting humanity from future pandemics.
We are disappointed that the NIH intends to transfer the remaining NIH-owned and NIH-supported chimpanzees to the federal sanctuary and to seek additional taxpayer money from Congress for that purpose. Retiring the majority of NIH-owned and NIH-supported animals to the federal sanctuary would take them away from their caregivers, many of whom they have known all of their lives. It also would deprive them of the state-of-the-art medical and diagnostic capabilities that have been developed at chimpanzee research facilities over several decades with taxpayer money.
We do not understand why NIH exempted the national sanctuary from the standards mandated for research-active and research-inactive populations at research facilities, with respect to ethologically appropriate physical and social environments. We believe that the national sanctuary, which is primarily funded by taxpayer dollars via NIH should be held to the same standards as research facilities.