For decades it has been common practice to use animals for biomedical research to test new medicines and control factors that might influence the outcome of experiments, such as temperature, humidity, light, diet, or medications. The use of animals in biomedical research is a legally mandated practice across the globe, but animal rights organisations have encouraged the development of alternative methods of innovating medical research.
Due to the continued reliance on animal testing in the pharmaceutical industry, organisations and biotech companies have taken the initiative to use artificial intelligence and virtual reality to lead the way in eliminating animal testing in biomedical research.
Amongst the companies to innovate the drug development business model has been Debiopharm. The Swiss pharmaceutical company has been focusing on human-based drug development, driven by machine learning to encourage the end of animal testing. The company recently expanded on its existing SaaS software offering by launching Iktos Robotics; a unique drug discovery platform which combines artificial intelligence and automation of chemical synthesis to accelerate drug discovery timelines.
With artificial intelligence, the company is moving towards extending the company’s solutions to biological products(peptides, antibodies, etc.). By having an AI system that accelerates drug discovery timelines, the company will be enabling pharmaceutical companies to find an alternative to using animals in the creation of what the company has called disruptive discovery products. PETA and other animal rights organisations see the emergence of such AI technology as a first step toward reducing the dependency on animals in clinical trials that they have been advocating for decades.
A consistent argument against animal drug testing has been that many animal trials fail to pass human clinical trials-resulting in a delay of development, high costs, and the unnecessary abuse of animals. As with Debiopharm's Iktos Robotics AI, VeriSIM's BIOiSIM platform leverages AI and machine learning to provide insights into drugs' efficacy in humans at much earlier stages in the drug development process than animal trials.
The AI system is more or less a digital twin of the human body; it demonstrates how drugs behave in the body, via the skin, orally, or as an injection. In the process of simulating drug interactions in the human body, the AI stimulates drug interactions throughout the body every hundredth of a second, generating critical information such as organ toxicity or drug metabolising, at a faster rate than has been evidenced in drugs being tested on rats, mice, primates, cats and dogs.
The platform has proved its capability to stand up against the rest in how it solves the decade old translatability problem within the drug development phase and ensures a higher rate of clinical success for future drugs that will be addressing the most challenging diseases impacting humankind.
Technology firms are focusing on making a positive impact in the biomedical industry, however, PETA is favouring a different approach. The animal rights organisation has taken a radical stance by bringing nightmares to reality, by using alien abduction novels as a jumping off point for encouraging the end of animal testing in biomedical research in American universities.
Through a collaboration with the VR studio Prosper XR, the organisation uses virtual reality to bring its visitors to a deserted island with their friends. Upon landing on the island, aliens abduct them and take them aboard a spaceship. During the experience, visitors are immersed in a headset where they watch their friends undergo animal experiments inspired by those conducted at their universities.
PETA’s focus on the universities stems from the experiments that have historically been conducted in them. Amongst them is George Washington University where PETA has revealed that regular experiments are done on animals that involve drilling holes in the skulls of baby mice to inject tumours. Princeton has also been targeted for its biomedical tests which involve cutting into the heads of monkeys, having portions of their skulls carved out, and finally having electrodes inserted into their heads before being forced to respond to images on a screen in exchange for a ‘reward’ of juice.
The virtual reality simulation has proved to be a success in rallying support across the nation, as since its launching in 2022, PETA has announced that Abduction will be launched on multiple campuses across the country in hopes of opening up the younger generation's eyes to the ramifications of animal testing and motivate them to switch towards non-animal research.
The future of biomedical research
Although animal testing is still widely regarded as the best way to resolve biologically uncertain questions, it still seems as though we are beginning to understand and create spaces for discussing how far artificial intelligence and virtual reality can be used in drug development to ensure that animal testing is a thing of the past.