International Cooperation on Alternative Test Methods
In 2020, the European Union Reference Laboratory for Alternatives to Animal Testing (EURL ECVAM), an ICATM partner organization, issued recommendations on use of non-animal derived antibodies. The EURL ECVAM recommendations were based on a scientific advisory committee review that found that:
- Animal-free technologies are able to produce affinity reagents with equal or better quality than that offered by antibodies produced using the conventional animal-based methods.
- Use of animal-free affinity reagents provides scientific benefits.
The International Cooperation on Alternative Test Methods (ICATM) was created to foster dialog among national validation organizations. This dialog facilitates international cooperation in the critical areas of validation studies, independent peer review, and development of harmonized recommendations.
ICATM member organizations hold coordination meetings at least annually. The most recent coordination meeting was hosted virtually by the Japanese Center for the Validation of Alternative Methods (JaCVAM) in October 2020. Representatives from the United States, European Union, Canada, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan presented updates on recent activities. Discussion topics included:
- The concept of standards and approaches to validation that could replace multi-laboratory studies.
- Activities to address European recommendations on use of non-animal derived antibodies.
- Development of detailed review papers and integrated approaches to testing and assessment.
- Human-relevant approaches to assessing the eye irritation potential of agrochemical formulations.
The sections below provide summaries of other ICATM activities and background information on ICATM.
TSAR: Resource for Tracking Alternative Methods
An overview of non-animal methods that have been proposed for regulatory safety or efficacy testing of chemicals or biological agents can be found in the Tracking System for Alternative Methods (TSAR) resource, provided by EURL ECVAM. TSAR tracks alternative method progress from submission for validation through to final adoption by inclusion into the regulatory framework. EURL ECVAM is an ICATM partner organization (see "About ICATM" below).
ICATM Tenth Anniversary Workshop (2019)
ICATM observed its tenth anniversary at an October 2019 workshop at the European Commission Joint Research Centre in Ispra, Italy. ICATM representatives reflected on progress made in the last decade toward regulatory acceptance of alternatives to animal testing, and regulatory agency representatives identified challenges and opportunities to address. Specific topics discussed during the workshop and subsequent ICATM coordination meeting included:
- Strategies to promote regulatory adoption of defined approaches to testing.
- Challenges presented in the assessment of endocrine disruptors.
- Approaches to building confidence in regulatory application of microphysiological systems.
ICATM Workshop on Validation (2018)
In October 2018, ICATM members met at the workshop, “Validation and Establishing Scientific Confidence.” Preparatory discussions for this workshop took place at the September 2018 meeting of the Scientific Advisory Committee on Alternative Toxicological Methods.
At the workshop, ICATM representatives from the United States, Canada, European Union, Japan, South Korea, and Brazil, along with representatives of the European Chemicals Agency, the European Food Safety Agency, the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, the Singapore Agency for Science, Technology and Research, and OECD, met to discuss validation and establishing scientific confidence in alternative approaches.
Validation establishes the reliability and relevance of a test method for an intended application. However, it is difficult to apply traditional validation practices to new chemical safety testing approaches such as computational methods and defined approaches that combine multiple types of assay data. Participants at the October 2018 workshop identified key questions to consider in addressing this issue. These included demonstrating human health relevance without animal data and establishing more efficient validation procedures. Validation elements identified for particular consideration included reference chemical lists and independent peer review.
A ICATM coordination meeting followed the workshop, at which attendees shared updates on their organizations’ activities and continued discussions from the preceding workshop. As a first step toward addressing the identified issues, ICATM representatives conducted a detailed review of OECD Guidance Document 34, the current standard for validation of chemical safety test methods. In doing so, they identified specific areas that may need updating to address new technologies, methodologies, and testing approaches.
ICATM Workshop on Skin Sensitization (2016)
In 2016, ICATM convened a workshop on "International Regulatory Applicability and Acceptance of Alternative Approaches to Skin Sensitization Assessment of Chemicals." Workshop participants reviewed current international regulatory requirements for skin sensitization testing, including currently available non-animal approaches, and considered what steps should be taken to support the regulatory acceptance of these approaches. Outcomes of the workshop included a review of international requirements for skin sensitization testing (Daniel et al. 2018) and a position paper (Casati et al. 2018) that proposes practical ways to evaluate and facilitate the regulatory adoption of non-animal defined approaches for skin sensitization assessments.
Workshop discussions also formed the basis for a proposal to develop a test guideline for defined approaches for skin sensitization testing and assessment. The proposal was approved at the April 2017 meeting of the Working Group of National Coordinators of the OECD Test Guidelines Programme. Approval of the proposal allowed for further development of the guideline under the OECD annual work plan. Approval of the defined approach guideline will facilitate regulatory acceptance of specific defined approaches for skin sensitization. This is expected to more rapidly advance the goal to eliminate animal use for skin sensitization testing worldwide.
Several key issues required for acceptance of the defined approach guideline were addressed at the April 2018 and April 2019 National Coordinators meetings, and an expert group was established to consider elements of the guideline in more detail.
ICATM was originally established by a 2009 agreement signed by ICCVAM, EURL ECVAM, JaCVAM, and Health Canada.
ICATM's goals are:
- To establish international cooperation in validation studies, independent peer review, and development of harmonized recommendations in order to ensure worldwide acceptance of alternative methods and strategies.
- To establish international cooperation necessary to ensure that new alternative test methods/strategies adopted for regulatory use will provide equivalent or improved protection for people, animals, and the environment, while replacing, reducing, or refining animal use where scientifically feasible.
ICATM promotes voluntary international cooperation, collaboration, and communication among national validation organizations in order to:
- Ensure the optimal design and conduct of validation studies to support national and international regulatory decisions on the regulatory use of alternative methods.
- Ensure high-quality independent scientific peer reviews of alternative test methods.
- Support development of harmonized recommendations by national validation organizations on the regulatory use of alternative test methods.
- Achieve greater efficiency and effectiveness by avoiding duplication of effort and leveraging limited resources.
- Support the timely international adoption of alternative methods.
An updated Memorandum of Cooperation (MOC) adding the Korean Center for the Validation of Alternative Methods (KoCVAM) to the ICATM agreement was signed in March 2011.
Since 2015, China and Brazil have been participating in ICATM activities as observers. Both countries actively contributed to the 2016 workshop on skin sensitization. Brazil and Singapore were represented at the 2018 workshop on validation, and Brazil sent a representative to the 2019 tenth anniversary workshop. Taiwan has also participated in recent ICATM activities; a representative participated in the October 2020 coordination meeting.
ICATM Partner Organizations
ICCVAM is an interagency committee of the U.S. government that coordinates technical reviews of alternative test methods and cross-agency activities relating to validation, acceptance, and harmonization of test methods.
European Union Reference Laboratory for Alternatives to Animal Testing
EURL ECVAM is a unit within the Institute of Health and Consumer Protection in the European Union’s Joint Research Centre. EURL ECVAM coordinates the validation of alternative test methods at the European Union level.
Japanese Center for the Validation of Alternative Methods
JaCVAM, part of the Japanese National Institute of Health Sciences, coordinates the evaluation of alternative test methods for Japan.
Health Canada was the signatory for both ICATM MOC agreements and is the official coordinator of Canadian participation in ICATM. The Canadian Centre for Alternatives to Animal Methods (CCAAM) and its subsidiary, the Canadian Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods (CaCVAM) participate as partners with Health Canada in ICATM activities. CCAAM and CaCVAM, both located at the University of Windsor, aim to develop, validate, and promote methodologies in biomedical research, education, and chemical toxicity testing that do not require the use of animals.
Korean Center for the Validation of Alternative Methods
KoCVAM coordinates the evaluation of alternative test methods for South Korea. KoCVAM is part of the National Institute of Food and Drug Safety Evaluation of the South Korean Food and Drug Administration.
Status Updates from ICATM Partner Organizations
EURL ECVAM 2019 Status Report
EURL ECVAM has issued its 2019 “Status Report on the Development, Validation and Regulatory Acceptance of Alternative Methods and Approaches.” The status report describes research, development, and validation activities, as well as initiatives that promote the regulatory and international adoption and use of alternative approaches and their dissemination. Activities described in the report include:
- Research initiatives to foster mechanistic-based toxicity testing to support risk assessment of chemicals, with a primary focus on repeated dose, developmental and reproductive toxicity.
- Exploration of the relationship between chemical exposure and public and environmental health, with particular attention being given to the area of carcinogenicity.
- Validation of methods to identify substances with the potential to affect the thyroid signaling pathway, damage DNA, or induce skin sensitization.
Status of JaCVAM Activities
Status of KoCVAM Activities
EURL ECVAM Validation Study in the Field of Toxicokinetics and Metabolism
EURL ECVAM coordinated a validation study of two in vitro assays to evaluate human liver metabolism and toxicity. Representatives from NICEATM and ICCVAM participated on the management team for this validation study.
In humans and other animals, chemical metabolism often involves liver enzymes called cytochrome P450s (CYPs). An EURL ECVAM study completed in 2013 assessed the potential for CYP enzyme induction at clinically relevant doses of pharmaceuticals in a human hepatoma cell line (HepaRG®) and cryopreserved human liver cells. This study provided a starting point for the development of novel in vitro platforms to assess chemical and drug metabolism and toxicity, with the ultimate goal of providing a metabolically competent in vitro alternative for long-term toxicity studies.
The EURL ECVAM validation report for this study was submitted to the EURL ECVAM Scientific Advisory Committee for peer review in 2014. Peer review reports for the method using the HepaRG cell line and cryopreserved human liver cells are available in the EURL ECVAM TSAR database. The peer review concluded that the approach was not yet ready for regulatory use.
A draft test guideline for in vitro measurement of CYP enzyme induction is currently under consideration by OECD. In a recent publication (Hakkola et al. 2018), EURL ECVAM provided support for the usefulness of these methods for chemical toxicity assessments.