Horizon Europe: unlocking the full potential of non-animal technologies to tackle human diseases
The European Commission recently closed the largest public consultation ever held on the past, present and future of the EU’s Horizon research and innovation programmes 2014-2027. Under the current Framework Programme, Horizon Europe, the cluster health aims to advance new knowledge, improve our understanding of health and disease, and develop innovative solutions to prevent, diagnose, monitor, treat and cure diseases. However, it is not clear that these objectives are being pursued in line with the best scientific evidence, the EU’s commitment to move away from animal testing, and the repeated calls from EU citizens to transition to non-animal science.
“What we do not understand, we cannot address effectively”.
The report on Horizon Europe’s Mission on Cancer stresses that understanding the human biological processes is crucial for developing effective treatments. Preclinical animal studies, which are costly and time-consuming, are of questionable relevance to study human cancers and rarely lead to successful treatments due to physiological, anatomical, and psychological differences between animals and humans. Conversely, advanced human-based approaches can improve our understanding of disease mechanisms, including cancer, provide new insights into drug discovery, and deliver more effective personalised treatments. However, their validation, standardisation and implementation remain slow, partly because these processes are expensive, laborious and often inadequately funded. In its reply to the EP Resolution to accelerate the transition to innovation without the use of animals in science, the European Commission stated that it has been a strong supporter of the development of non-animal methods over the past two decades. Yet, as the Commission pointed out, the annual budget for non-animal approaches has remained unchanged over the last 14 years at a figure of about 48 million euro per year.
In our response to the public consultation, Eurogroup for Animals emphasised that:
- Non-animal approaches are game-changing technologies that have the potential to significantly improve our understanding of human diseases by producing data based on human biology, leading to considerable benefits for public health in terms of preventing and curing diseases.
- The Mission on Cancer provides a great opportunity to support and promote innovative non-animal technologies to better understand cancer, and deliver new treatments to address the alarming growth of cancer cases.
- Strong national and international collaborations across all sectors and with different stakeholders (e.g. regulators, academia, industry) are key to unlocking the full potential of advanced non-animal solutions, and allow for a continuous interaction and exchange of experience and best practices.
- Sharing and disseminating the latest human-relevant scientific knowledge through education and training activities is an effective way to inspire the next generation of scientists and encourage a change in attitudes and priorities.
- Horizon Europe should strive to collect and share information in a simple way to understand where animals continue to be used, and where investment in non-animal approaches is most needed.
- Significant funding must be made available for the validation and implementation of advanced human-based methods in order to fully unlock and exploit new tools, technologies and digital solutions to tackle and manage human diseases.
The EU has now the opportunity to become a world leader in advancing non-animal science, but this can only be achieved by replacing animal-based methods with next-generation non-animal technologies. Joining forces across Europe to better promote and fund these technologies will help achieve the objectives of Horizon Europe and the Commission’s commitment to fully replace animals in scientific procedures, but also to improve the successful translational outcomes to humans.