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NC3Rs | 20 Years: Pioneering Better Science

Refining non-human primate vaccine studies in the age of COVID-19

Portrait image of a macaque

A new review paper co-authored by NC3Rs staff and published in Vaccines sets out opportunities to refine vaccine studies that use non-human primates.

Macaques and other monkey species have long been used to develop and test vaccines against human diseases, because some pathogens do not infect other laboratory animal species in a way that adequately models human disease. Demand for these animals has increased recently in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to a shortage in some world regions.

Wherever non-human primates are used in research and testing, the highest standards of animal use and care are essential, not only for animal welfare and ethical reasons but also to optimise data quality, model validity and research integrity. The new paper identifies features of contemporary good practice that should be adopted more widely than is currently the case globally in vaccine and drug efficacy studies with monkeys, especially when performed in biocontainment. These include careful selection of animals, social housing, extensive environmental enrichment, training for cooperation with husbandry and procedures, provision of supportive care (e.g. fluid therapy, pain relief), and implementation of early humane endpoints.

The review is authored by Dr Mark Prescott of the NC3Rs and staff from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), a global partnership launched in 2017 that focuses on developing vaccines to stop future epidemics. It represents the latest in a series of collaborative initiatives designed to support vaccine developers to implement the 3Rs, including an international workshop hosted in 2019 and assessment of CEPI research proposals against the NC3Rs guidelines on non-human primate use and care. These have already contributed to improving the 3Rs compliance of studies supporting COVID-19 vaccine development.

For more information on the NC3Rs' work in non-human primate welfare, visit our resources on this topic.


  1. Prescott MJ, Clark C, Dowling WE, Shurtleff AC (2021). Opportunities for refinement of non-human primate vaccine studies. Vaccines 9: 284. doi:10.3390/vaccines9030284