How COVID-19 has affected the non-human primate shortage

Why is the shortage in non-human primates such a serious issue for the scientific community?

Non-human primates (NHPs) are critical for clinical development pathways of new drug applications, but NHP suppliers are currently struggling to meet an unprecedented surge in global demand. 

A National Institute of Health (NIH) survey of grants awarded between 2013 and 2017 revealed that nearly half of NIH-funded investigators reported difficulty in obtaining sufficient numbers of NHPs or related services for their research. The implications of this include critical delays in study initiation and widespread requests for grant extensions. These are driven by stretched timelines and increased costs, unforeseen when grant amounts were originally requested. 

In the US, what are the underlying challenges in meeting non-human primate demand?

+ There has been an increase in funding for research that requires NHPs - including HIV/AIDS and neuroscience research.

+ There are currently long lead times of three to five years for colony expansion. These are exacerbated by suppliers' inability to set aside future breeders because of strong global demand. 

What are the future projections of non-human primate supply?

Extended NIH award periods, accompanied by a shift in emphasis toward HIV/AIDS research, indicate that there won't be a decrease in demand for NHPs. Given that supply chains are already straining to meet the existing demand, the current shortage is unlikely to be resolved any time within the next few months.

What additional issues are leading to the current shortfalls?

+ China, which is by far the world's largest supplier of NHPs, is currently experiencing a boom in biomedical research.

Globally, there's increased interest in developing large molecules as drugs, for which NHPs are often the only relevant species for pre-clinical evaluation.

+ There's currently a great deal of research being done on COVID-19. NHPs are vital for completion of many of these studies.

What are the short and long-term effects of COVID-19 on non-human primate supply?

COVID-19 has not only increased NHP demand for vaccine research, it has also brought NHP supply chains to a standstill. With countries around the world on lockdown and cargo space on airplanes at an unprecedented premium, transporting NHPs has become extremely challenging.

China's COVID-19 lockdown has had a particularly dramatic effect on NHP supplies. Around 50% of the NHPs imported annually to the US are sourced from China. With the country implementing a ban on the export of primates, that vital supply chain is currently unavailable.

As international lockdowns and cargo restrictions are listed, there will be a large backlog of NHP orders to work through. Research teams will experience delays in their orders being processed as the industry resets itself in a post-lockdown world.

How can researchers mitigate the potential effects of a non-human primate shortage?

Researchers are advised to plan ahead and collaborate with a trusted and accredited animal-supplier partner to generate stable cohorts of NHPs to be used exclusively by that research group. Researchers may also consider the more cost-effective option of procuring and boarding NHPs with a trusted partner, instead of waiting until the time NHPs are needed to place an order. 

Overall, these factors will provide the best opportunity to obtain the highest-quality research outcomes, enhance animal welfare, and reduce the likelihood of a potential disruption in research.

The Envigo team is creating solutions for research teams. Contact us today to learn how we can help your team gain access to the NHPs you need. 

For further details on the current NHP shortage, download Envigo's recent white paper, Non-Human Primate shortage is forecasted to accelerate.