May 24

The COVID-19 pandemic caused China to run out of monkeys for experiments


Each year, China needs up to 30,000 monkeys for scientific research.

COVID-19 is not only creating shortages of vaccines and semiconductors around the world. It also indirectly strangles the supply of a very special commodity in China: Lab monkeys.

Each year, Chinese scientists need up to 30,000 monkeys for their drug trials and biological experiments.

But the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted the government to enact a ban on the wildlife trade. The ban is said to have a good impact on disease prevention. But as an unexpected consequence, the supply of animals to the laboratories was also cut off.

Previously, China used to import most of the cynomolgus macaques from Southeast Asia to be used as laboratory animals. Now, they can only rely on domestic monkey facilities. But the ability to breed these experimental monkeys in China is still quite low.

The shortage of supply has pushed the price of lab monkeys here to quadruple, from $2,300/head to $9,200. Laboratories across the country even had to compete for a place to buy.

Zhang Wen, the owner of Jiangsu Johnsen Bioresource, a monkey and dog breeding company in eastern China, said it had to turn down many orders because there were no monkeys to sell. “We don’t have a single one. They’ve been sold out,” he said.

An impact of the COVID-19 pandemic

With that said, the main cause of the shortage of laboratory monkeys in China is a ban on the wildlife trade that was imposed by the government in January last year, after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. and wildlife is to blame.

The ban applies to both the import and export of laboratory animals, state media reported. While China has been confident in recent years as the world’s largest producer of lab rats, its ability to produce monkeys is still limited.

Most of the test monkeys, such as the long-tailed cynomolgus, were imported from Southeast Asia. Zhang said the scarcity of lab monkeys has attracted many investors to jump into the field. But breeders cannot increase their production immediately.

“Animals have their own life cycle,” Zhang said. “We are not like industrial goods: as long as you invest in a new high-end line, you can produce as many products as you want.” Jiangsu Johnsen Bioresource itself currently only has a new herd of a few hundred monkeys.

Back before the COVID-19 pandemic, China was also a major exporter of laboratory monkeys. Their market is the United States, the country that uses the most laboratory monkeys in the world.

During fiscal year 2019, laboratories in the US performed experiments on approximately 68,000 non-human primates, out of a total of approximately 800,000 laboratory animals of all kinds.

After China stopped exporting animals early last year, researchers in the US complained about a shortage of lab monkeys, slowing the pace of COVID-19 research. But given his experience, Zhang said China’s export ban alone is unlikely to cause a shortage of lab monkeys in the US.

China uses up to 30,000 lab monkeys every year

According to a report by the China Laboratory for Primate Breeding and Development Association, the number of laboratory monkeys in the country has increased from 8,000 in 2013 to about 30,000 in 2019.

Monkeys are a priority object in the study of diseases or medicines for humans because of their genetic similarity with us. Most biological products currently have to undergo testing on monkeys. Along with that is 20 to 30% of synthetic drugs.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, scientists also tried infecting monkeys with the SARS-CoV-2 virus to study its effects on organs and the immune system. Monkeys are also widely used in vaccine development, although it’s unclear exactly how many monkeys have been sacrificed in humanity’s fight against COVID-19.

But now, a new war is brewing between laboratories in China. Lack of supply of lab monkeys is causing laboratories to compete for orders with each other. They even had to call for government intervention to resolve the situation.

In an interview with Yicai, Ren Jin, a scientist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said the government could establish a centralized supply of lab monkeys, and give them priority to other countries. important research program.

From the perspective of a lab animal breeder, Zhang predicts the monkey shortage will persist for years to come. And the scientists should envisage a plan B in their study, such as replacing the long-tailed cynomolgus with baboons or whatever primate species may be found in China.

The inadvertent scarcity of monkeys is also driving other lab animals up in price. Like the beagle dog. Zhang said he is selling the beagles for $780, up from $470 six months ago.

Beagle dogs are also widely used in scientific research around the globe because of their docile nature. However, the killing and mistreatment of laboratory dogs has been criticized by some animal rights groups in the US. They are having to deal with the use of dogs in experiments and are increasingly strict with other animals such as rats, and of course monkeys.


China, Coronavirus, Covid-19, experimental monkey, pandemic, umd

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