The process of Drug Discovery involves many stages of testing and multiple layers of government regulations. Each step involves a series of complex assays for experimental new treatments that may never leave the lab.
There is a lot of pressure on pharmaceutical companies to make sure everything from finding new hits to managing clinical trials is as efficient and effective as possible, while remaining ethical and following the 3Rs principles. One area that can impact budgets in unexpected ways is the choice of an animal model for preclinical studies. When comparing an option like Zebrafish to more traditional mammals like mice or rats, it can be surprising how much there is to save.
It’s important to note that there are many options for affordable animal models with quick development stages. Various worms and fruit flies are an easy option for the more basic tests and assays, as an example. However, their limited biological relevance to humans makes these otherwise very efficient alternative animal models less meaningful.
Mammals like mice and rats sit on the other end of the spectrum. They are so commonly associated with biomedical research that the average layperson often associates experimental medicine with little white mice. These rodents have traditionally found a lot of use in Drug Discovery, but they are very expensive to maintain, difficult to scale, and don’t fall into the 3Rs practices.
The right alternative animal model should efficiently provide relevant results for new treatments.
A middle-ground approach can be found in Zebrafish. The small bony fish are both affordable and scalable while sharing relevant genetics to humans. Plus, they are not considered animals until 5 days post fertilization, meaning they align well with the 3Rs. The vertebrate fish is an effective homologue for early Drug Discovery and preclinical studies, offering a cost-effective way to move towards clinical trials and releasing a new drug on the market.
Zebrafish Are Cost Effective Alternative Animal Models
Zebrafish are well known in Drug Discovery for their use in High Content Screening and various tests and assays in preclinical studies. The small vertebrate fish have a lot of genetic similarities to humans, making them a great stand-in when testing new treatments. Plus, Zebrafish are more cost-effective than mammals like rodents in preclinical studies.
Using Zebrafish as an animal model leads to noticeably faster results with more efficient testing when compared to mammalian animal models. That difference in speed and scale quickly translates into less stress around budgets in Drug Discovery.
For example, mammals can require a significant amount of space, food, and time in order to be properly maintained. Mice and rats may be slightly closer to humans genetically, but Zebrafish can provide relevant information without the need for as much care.
Maintaining a clean terrestrial habitat is not only labor-intensive, it can add irrelevant costs to any test or assay. Mammalian habitats need to be taken care of for longer periods of time and the slower reproductive cycles and a limited number of offspring mean taking care of the animal models for longer as well.
When multiple generations or full reproductive cycles need to be studied, that can stretch the preclinical study period into more months as everyone waits for the models to develop and mature.
Cost analyses have shown that various Drug Discovery tests and assays can be hundreds of times more affordable with Zebrafish.
The small margins gained by using rodents are quickly lost in all the expenses associated with mammals. Adding on the difficulties in scaling and long-term maintenance of specific habitats ends up greatly impacting budgets. All of that comes before mentioning the laws and regulations around using mammals for research purposes.
Using Zebrafish as an Alternative Animal Model
Moving from a promising hit or a newly identified chemical compound to clinical trials requires context and understanding as much as possible about the new treatment’s toxicity, efficacy, and safety.
Alternative animal models help researchers gather data about how new treatments interact with the biological system. Zebrafish are an alternative animal model that help provide that valuable information while also being efficient and affordable.
The small fish take 5-6 days to develop with a single female laying several hundred eggs every week. To put that in other terms, the number of usable animal models can grow into the thousands in less than a month.
The incredible amount of Zebrafish provided by their natural reproductive cycle makes them a great option for High Content Screening (HCS). By adding Zebrafish to this early stage Drug Discovery, new hits can quickly be evaluated and better understood before moving to preclinical studies.
Zebrafish also offer another ethical benefit for scientists and researchers, as they align with the 3Rs. They develop in transparent embryos, allowing for in vivo observations of the entire developmental cycle without the need for invasive surgery.
With Zebrafish, researchers can watch organs grow and see how new treatments affect the biological system using their eyes.
Zebrafish can also outlive rodents, growing and remaining able to reproduce for 4-5 years compared to 3 years for mice. That makes the small fish even easier to scale while also opening up new possibilities for studies on aging.
Zebrafish Help Bring New Treatments to Market Faster
The time and money saved by using Zebrafish as an alternative animal model for preclinical studies help to speed up the development of new compounds. The hidden costs of housing, feeding, and maintaining habitats for mammals add up and eat into budgets.
Testing on Zebrafish can save time, impacting budgets and shortening the time it takes to bring a new treatment to market.
Zebrafish develop and provide hundreds of new models in the span of one week. The benefits of Zebrafish are as clear as their embryos. That translates into an incredible ability to scale and perform iterative tests and assays as needed. New treatments can greatly benefit from the added reproducibility provided by efficient large scale testing.
In Drug Discovery, the goal is always to build a full understanding of the toxicity, efficacy, and safety of a new treatment before it enters clinical trials. Making sure all results are reproducible and verifiable with statistically significant data leads to a better chance of eventually bringing the new treatment to patients in need all around the world.