Immuno-oncology. Biologics. Cell and gene therapies. This is the future of medicine. It’s more personalized, more complex and driving an increase in demand for highly technical nonclinical studies that require study models that most closely resemble the human body. Oftentimes, it’s nascent science that demands a new study that hasn’t even been invented yet.
That’s why innovation is built into the very foundation of our renowned nonhuman primate (NHP) center of excellence in Münster, Germany. We’re right there alongside our sponsors at the leading edge of personalized medicine. “We are constantly investing in our resources to ensure our customers have access to the latest advancements in science and technical capabilities and studies are conducted with superior animal welfare that exceeds industry expectations,” explains Lars Mecklenburg, Site Lead and Executive Director Safety Assessment. Our most recent $19 million expansion is no exception.
Encompassing 41,000 square feet, the expansion includes a state-of-the-art vivarium with 26 study rooms for conducting general toxicity, safety pharmacology and reproductive toxicity studies, as well as staff office space. “It’s really about quality, not quantity,” explains Mecklenburg. “The facility design provides the space and flexibility to keep implementing new ways to elevate animal welfare that have a direct correlation to study outcomes. It’s for our clients who keep pushing the boundaries of healthcare and the patients who urgently need these next medical breakthroughs.”
We designed this next-generation research facility based on our 15 years of experience with housing NHPs in social groups and taking into account our key learnings since the implementation of the European group-housing regulations in 2006. The expansive vivarium now features an innovative design to accommodate new ways of behavioral enrichment and training. It represents a prime example of how we keep your studies ahead of industry trends. “With this expansion project we had the opportunity once again to push innovation even further with a focus on improving study outcomes for clients,” explains Theodor Lucas, Scientific Proposal Manager. “We asked new questions such as ‘How can we further optimize the cage design?’ and ‘How do the animals use the space that we provide to them?’ and moreover ‘How does all of this impact study data and outcomes?’” The final installation creates a more natural zoo-like environment with lots of structures to climb and sit on and new materials to play with—which translates to more enrichment and enhanced study outcomes.
When it comes to advancing our technical capabilities, patients and our customers are our North Star. “More often than not, it’s our customers that come to us with a very specific study need in mind that they are struggling to place because it is outside the standard box for whatever reason. Maybe there is a specific endpoint or a specific administration procedure,” explains Lucas. “We think about it together and, oftentimes, come to a solution that brings us to the next level of scientific expertise we are then able to establish and offer to more customers.” This new facility sets us up well to explore potential medical breakthroughs for the more complex and rare patient conditions.
“When we see a customer challenge or new medical trend, we react to those needs,” says Mecklenburg. Twenty years ago, it was therapeutic antibodies and biologics. Today, it’s cell and gene therapies. “All of these novel drugs need to be investigated nonclinically first. That’s what drives our innovation,” Mecklenburg continues. “New medicines may require very specialized routes of administration, such as for treatments that may need to be administered below the retina or directly into the human brain for indications of the central nervous system.”
What’s most exciting is that investments in innovative techniques tend to have a ripple effect across our global footprint. And we can easily see what we will learn here will eventually be employed for your studies being performed at our other locations. For example, many years ago, we developed a specific study design for reproductive toxicity assessment and became a leader in that study type. We transferred that knowledge to our Madison, Wisconsin facility. “We called it Münster in Madison,” says Mecklenburg. “Same conditions. Same procedures. The staff collaborated and learned from each other. Now we have a replicated offering at both locations available to more clients.” Our model for harmonizing practices across sites has been integral to our mission of innovating to consistently offer the best solutions to you and the patients you serve.