US pharmaceutical giant, Charles River’s Laboratories, has partnered with the French giant Sanofi to further develop digital control groups for virtual clinical trials as a means of moving away from the controversial practice of live animal testing.

The partnership between the two pharmaceutical giants means that the two firms will work together to replace selected control group animals with selected matched virtual control animals developed using retrospective datasets. The Virtual Control Groups (VCG) initiative is headed by Charles River’s Alternative Methods Advancement Project (AMAP), an initiative focused on reducing the use of animals in research.

Charles River says that a VCG is a data-driven, digital creation based on robust historical study data, parameters, and complex statistical methodology. The first application for these VCGs is for use in nonclinical toxicology programs.

Shannon Parisotto, corporate executive vice president for Charles River, said: “Charles River is uniquely positioned to combine the science of toxicology with the power of machine learning to drive greater use of VCGs for nonclinical research across the industry.

“We have an unmatched breadth of data, providing a powerful database of study parameters. By leveraging this historical information, we can reduce control group animals and provide clients with meaningful study results.”

Research published by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that the vast majority of animal testing conducted in the US is in fact, liable to be harmful and costly whilst resulting in little meaningful clinical result whilst at the same time being deeply unpopular with the general public. Whilst Charles River’s Laboratories has announced to plans to scale back on animal testing, they have given no indication of cutting out the practice entirely.

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At the same time, research conducted by GlobalData has found that the overall market interest in virtual clinical trials has boomed in popularity.

Philippe Detilleux, global head of preclinical safety for Sanofi, added: “We are proud to work with Charles River on this important initiative. We have an incredible opportunity to advance sustainable science by reducing our reliance on animal models, and VCGs are one way in which we are utilizing technology to make progress in this area.”

Elsewhere in the field of digital simulation within clinical trials, French engineering firm Dassault Systèmes has created a virtual twin of a Parisian dialysis ward in a bid to better understand how respiratory infections travel across hospitals.