Resistance to Indian company plan to site animal lab in Malaysia

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 2010:
KUALA LUMPUR, DELHI– Protesting a variant on the chemical
and pharamceutical industry practice of outsourcing animal testing to
developing nations with lax regulation, “Animal lovers, activists,
a senator, and Miss Malaysia/World 2009/2010 Thanuja Ananthan were
among those who gathered in front of the Indian High Commission” in
Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysia capital city, on June 10, 2010 “to
protest a plan by Vivo Bio Tech to build an animal testing laboratory
in Malacca,” the Star of Malaysia reported.
Leading the demonstration were the SPCA Selangor, Sahabat
Alam Malaysia, which represents the international organization
Friends of the Earth in Malaysia, PETA/Malaysia, and
representatives of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection
and the European Coalition to End Animal Experiments.


Vivo Bio Tech, headquartered in Himayath Nagar, Hyderabad,
reportedly conducts toxicity testing and cosmetic product safety
testing on species including dogs, rabbits, mice, rats, hamsters
and guinea pigs, and is believed to be opening a laboratory in
Malaysia in order to expand into doing experiments on macaques.
“The proposal, which has only recently come to light, is
the result of collaboration between Vivo Bio Tech and the Malacca
state-owned company Melaka Biotech Holdings,” said BUAV director of
special projects Sarah Kite. “It is particularly disconcerting,”
Kite added, “because Malaysia has no legislation governing the use
of animals in research.”
“While the state encourages foreign and local investments to
further boost Penang’s economy,” responded Penang deputy chief
minister P. Ramasamy to the Star of Malaysia four days after the
demonstration, “it also practises caution to ensure such investments
do not cause discomfort to the people and environment, including
animals.”

God & monkeys

But Malacca chief minister Mo-hamad Ali Rustam two weeks
earlier told Associated Press writer Julia Zappei that the Vivo Bio
Tech project had already received state approval. “God created
animals for the benefits of human beings. That’s why he created rats
and monkeys,” Mohamad Ali Rustam insisted. “We cannot test on human
beings,” he told Zappei. “This is the way it has to be. God
created monkeys, and some have to be test subjects.”
Star of Malaysia reporters Derrick Vinesh and S.S. Yoga
disclosed on June 12, 2010 that an animal research lab similar to
the one proposed by Vivo Bio Tech had already been “operating on the
quiet for three years.”
“The company, Progenix Research, says on its website that
it is an independent contract research organisation offering
toxicology services to worldwide pharmaceuticals, biotechnology,
and agrochemical clients,” wrote Vinesh and Yoga. “It says it
conducts toxicology tests on beagles, purpose-bred macaques,
rodents, and rabbits,” at a site in the Penang Science Park at
Bukit Minyak.
“A check by The Star,” Vinesh and Yoga added, “found that
there were fewer than 15 cars parked in the compound and
closed-circuit TV cameras were installed around the two-story
building.”
“The existence of the laboratory came as a surprise to the
state Wildlife and National Parks Department,” Vinesh and Yoga
added. “Department director Noor Alif Wira Othman said the
department had not issued any permit for primates to be bred for
research.”
“Breeding primates for research requires permits for
catching, keeping, breeding, selling or buying of the primates.
We will inspect these premises,” Noor Alif Wira Othman told Vinesh
and Yoga.
Said Sahabat Alam Malaysia president S.M. Mohd Idris, “We
have been actively fighting against the animal testing lab in
Malacca. Little did we know there was a lab conducting similar
activities here in Penang.”

Standards

While Malaysia currently has no legislation governing animal
research, Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation
undersecretary Rofina Yasmin Othman in mid-May 2010 confirmed to
Darshini Kandasamy of the Malay Mail that she has been working since
mid-April 2010 on “the development of national standards and
guidelines for the use of animals in line with international
standards. We are engaged in active discussions with agencies and
ministries including the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Natural
Resources and Environment, and Ministry of Agriculture and
Agro-Based Industries,” Rofina said, “and will continue to play a
proactive role in relevant technical issues.”
Summarized Darshini Kandasamy, “Rofina said the Ministry of
Science, Technology and Innovation is also reviewing draft guidelines
from the Laboratory Animal Science Association of Malaysia on the
ethical use and care of animals. When asked if a special ethics
committee would be formed to manage and oversee the guidelines, she
said the task would fall under the purview of the existing interim
Bioethics Committee.
“Earlier,” Darshini Kandasamy continued, “Ministry of
Health director-general Hasan Abdul Rahman conceeded that there is
now no specific authority or legislation governing the use of
animals. But, he assured there is a protocol applied for use of
animals in testing. Research involving animals needs approval from a
committee.”
Said Hasan Abdul Rahman, “The practice at this time is for
research facilities, such as universities or the Medical Research
Institute, to form their own committees. As for now, there exist no
guidelines” other than those that the institutions’ own internal
animal care and use committees may have developed.
In April 2010 Malacca chief minister Datuk Seri Mohd Ali
Rustam told media that Malacca state would seek authorization for the
proposed Vivo Bio Tech lab from the federal Ministry of Health, and
would form an ethics committee if the ministry requires it.

No permits

But Hasan Abdul Rahman “said the Ministry of Health has
nothing to do with the issue of animals used for testing at the
planned biotechnology centre in Malacca, and that such proposed
research and testing would not be conducted in any Health Ministry
facility,” wrote Darshini Kandasamy.
“Dr. Hasan said use of animals came under the jurisdiction of
two other agencies–the Wildlife & National Parks Department and the
Department of Veterinary Services. Any agency wishing to use
wildlife for testing, especially non-human primates like the
long-tail macaque, is required to obtain written approval from the
Wildlife & National Parks Department,” Darsini Kandasamy added. “Dr
Hasan said checks found that the company behind the upcoming Malacca
biotechnology centre had yet to make any such application.”
Permits are also required to import non-native animals into
Malaysia. Associated Press writer Eileen Ng reported on April 26,
2010 that “Officials from the wildlife and veterinary departments
said they were not aware of the Vivo Bio Tech project and have not
received any application from Vivo Bio Tech to import animals for
research. The company has said that Vivo may import beagles from
Holland and try to obtain domestic primates for testing before
turning to overseas sources,” Ng wrote. In 2009, Ng added, “a
French pharmaceutical research company proposed setting up an animal
testing laboratory in southern Johor state using imported macaques,
but the project was suspended amid an outcry from environmental
groups.”
Affirmed Agence France-Presse, “Officials familiar with the
plan said the Johor State Investment Centre wrote on May 8, 2009 to
Malaysia’s wildlife and national parks department, requesting
permission to import macaques for the testing lab.”

Indian interest

Vivo Bio Tech apparently became interested in opening a lab
in Malaysia after the outcome of the May 2009 Indian national
elections appeared to slow the momentum of changes to the regulation
of animal experiments sought by longtime minister for chemicals and
fertilizer Ram Vilas Paswan.
In March 2009, reported Gireesh Chandra Prasad of the
Economic Times, Ram Vilas Paswan presented to Indian prime minister
Manmohan Singh a set of proposals said to have been based on input
from “top executives of drug makers such as Ranbaxy, Biocon,
Wockhardt, Pfizer, Wyeth and F. Hoffmann LaRoche.”
The proposals included easing the requirements for licensing
an animal lab and undoing a regulation which requires that “One
animal cannot be subjected to more than five clinical trials, and
must survive and lead a good life after the tests,” Gireesh Chandra
Prasad said he was told by an anonymous official. “Faster approvals
for animal and human experiments is another reform planned,” Gireesh
Chandra Prasad wrote.
Prime minister Singh was returned to office–and immediately
after the election appointed animal advocate Jairam Ramesh to head
the Ministry for Wildlife and Forests, including holding the animal
welfare portfolio.
Ramesh made his views on animal experiments clear when in
January 2010 he inaugurated a national conference of the Committee
for the Purpose of Control and Supervision of Experiments on Animals,
the Indian agency that oversees animal experimentation. India has
prohibited the use of nonhuman primates in experiments since 1978.
The Indian pharmaceutical industry hoped in particular that this
restriction would be lifted.
“There is growing demand for use of primates in
experimentation,” Ramesh acknowledged. “But we need not open the
floodgates to use animals in experimentation in the name of academic
knowledge.”
Pointing toward an exhibit of alternatives to animal use
assembled by Inter-NICHE, Ramesh continued that, “This wonderful
exhibition shows what a modern technology can do to bring about a
revolution in methods of experimentation. We must refine our
methods, and replace animals in experiments. The Indian culture
respects all forms of life, animal as well as human,” Ramesh added.
“We will show respect in use of animals in experimentation. We have
a great deal of political commitment toward animal welfare.” Ramesh
suggested that learning to do advanced pharmaceutical research
without use of animals would better position India as an
international leader in drug development.

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