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NC3Rs: National Centre for the Replacement Refinement & Reduction of Animals in Research

Recognising and rewarding 3Rs developments at AstraZeneca

02 June 2015
 Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell (President and Vice-Chancellor of The University of Manchester and Non-Executive Director of AstraZeneca) on stage giving a speech

Dr Sally Robinson, Head of Laboratory Animal Science (UK) at AstraZeneca, describes how the company is incorporating and championing the 3Rs by recognising innovative developments and ensuring good practice is shared globally within their company.

At AstraZeneca the Council for Science and Animal Welfare (C-SAW) is the governance group for animal welfare and compliance across the AstraZeneca group of companies.

C-SAW is accountable for the aspects of our bioethics policy related to animal research, which outlines our commitment to ensure that all our research involving animals is carefully considered and justified, and the principles of the 3Rs are applied.  In line with these commitments C-SAW launched an annual global 3Rs award in 2014.

The objective of the award is to recognise and promote innovative scientific, technical and welfare contributions to the 3Rs in AstraZeneca’s research and to stimulate sharing of good practice across the AstraZeneca group of companies globally. In order to give the award the highest level of visibility and credibility its sponsor for 2014 was Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell (President and Vice-Chancellor of The University of Manchester and Non-Executive Director of AstraZeneca).

Animal research remains an emotive area and as such should create a strong passion in all those working with animals to drive innovative science as well as high standards of care bringing science and animal welfare together. The C-SAW Annual 3Rs Awards are intended to be a great example of this principle in action. It’s an opportunity to showcase scientific innovations, and the work being done to replace, refine, and reduce our use of animals both within the company and externally with our collaborators. Demonstrating our responsible approach to the use of animals in research is important in its own right, but the 3Rs Awards also give us the chance to recognise the care and compassion that our scientists and animal technicians put into their work with animals on a day-to-day basis.   

In order to enable us to fully recognise staff at all levels entries for the award are aligned to one of three categories:

  1. Scientific and/or Technical Advancement for example in silico modelling, in vitro methods, refined capabilities (e.g. imaging), innovative study design using fewer animals
  2. Lab Animal Management  for example, improvements to housing, environmental enrichment, handling, reductions in suffering
  3. Collaboration of the Year includes both internal and external collaborations. For example, collaborative 3Rs approaches across the organisation or between AstraZeneca and Contract Research Organisations/academic collaborators

The awards are open to any individual or team who has made a scientific, technical or welfare advance which has a demonstrated impact on the 3Rs. The 3Rs impact should be demonstrated through qualitative and quantitative data/metrics.

The awards panel consisted of senior veterinarians, scientists, a statistician and the NC3Rs Chief Executive Dr Vicky Robinson (as an independent and external expert).  The inclusion of an external expert further improves the credibility and impact of the award.  In our inaugural competition the panel reviewed all applications and selected the winner of each category as well as the overall winner. To enable the entries to be reviewed objectively the entry form requested information outlined below which also formed the basis for the criteria used for judging the quality of the entries by the panel.

  • Rationale/hypothesis for the work
  • Metrics to demonstrate the 3Rs impact (e.g. what test was replaced, scale of the reduction in animal use, indication of measures for how the refinement improved animal welfare)
  • Assessment of impact on drug discovery and development or the business (e.g. improved quality, efficiency, resource/cost savings)
  • Evidence of knowledge sharing/dissemination within AstraZeneca locally or across sites 
  • Evidence of dissemination outside of AstraZeneca (e.g. through publications and conference presentations)

Winners receive funding for national or international conference attendance to further disseminate the 3Rs impact of the work.  However, we believe the biggest incentive for scientists is recognition of the impact of their work both at a senior level and more widely in AstraZeneca. The awards were presented by Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell in January 2015.  In addition, all entrants were required to prepare a poster of their work for the event.  The principle behind this was to share all the 3Rs initiatives more widely, encouraging further uptake. All winners were video interviewed as ‘Science Stars’ and these videos were shared in an internal electronic monthly update that goes to all AstraZeneca employees (50,000+ staff) as well as being available on the AstraZeneca Global information portal.  In addition, our CEO runs an annual recognition event and the overall 3Rs award winner was also invited to attend this event and receive additional recognition from the CEO himself.  The videos and posters serve as great archive material and have continued to be used at the different AstraZeneca site events globally hopefully stimulating even more scientists to showcase their work in the 2015 competition.

In the inaugural competition there were 33 entries from AstraZeneca sites in the UK, USA and Sweden Six teams received awards including ‘the Sponsor’s award for outstanding contribution to the 3Rs’ recognising the work over several years introducing a mandatory standard in AstraZeneca to apply Good Statistical Practice (an assessment against ten statistical principles) for all in vivo work. 

The overall winner was a team in the UK who had championed work on fish anaesthesia.

Zebrafish are used to assess the potential impact of new medicines on the environment, but surprisingly little is known about appropriate anaesthesia in fish. For some experiments the fish need to be anaesthetised to minimise pain and distress. This is done by flowing anaesthetic into the water in the fish tank. However, some chemical substances in the water can be unpleasant for the fish. The winning team’s work has shown that zebrafish detect and actively avoid seven of the nine most commonly used anaesthetics and that etomidate appears to be the best anaesthetic from an animal welfare perspective. AstraZeneca has implemented the use of etomidate in work with adult zebrafish and shared its results more broadly through publications thus having even wider impact. This work has stimulated further research in this area, and several laboratories are undertaking wider investigations in this new field.

Image: Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell, AstraZeneca Board member speaking at the prize award event  

This post is a good example of implementing our Institutional Framework.