Various “citywide” projects the city of San Antonio proposed for inclusion in its $1.2 billion 2022 bond were opposed for financial reasons by members of City Council or citizens serving on the community review committees. The funds, it was argued, should go to individual council districts rather than third-party organizations.
But that’s not why $11 million proposed for expansion and renovations at Texas Biomedical Research Institute was withdrawn from consideration once the funding appeared to be on the verge of elimination.
In this case, it was opposition voiced by various groups and individuals who oppose the animal testing that is central to the research institute’s work to prevent or contain infectious diseases.
It’s certain that most, if not all, of the individuals who oppose such testing have benefited directly from the fact that the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) requires animal testing before humans can be subjected to clinical trials of new drugs, treatments or devices that could cause harm.
Anyone who has received a COVID-19 vaccination, or any other vaccination, has benefited from animal testing. Readers who want to learn more about “The Animal Rule,” can click on the FDA’s link.
Earlier in the pandemic, Texas Biomed partnered with Pfizer to conduct federally-mandated animal tests on the company’s vaccine before it was tested on humans. Texas Biomed also partnered with Regeneron to animal-test the company’s human monoclonal antibodies, which have since proven critical in the treatment of COVID-19 patients suffering life-threatening symptoms. Former President Donald Trump and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott both received such treatment..
Among other government and industry regulatory bodies, Texas Biomed is subject to review by the otherwise obscure Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, overseen by the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare. The committee reviews every proposed use of animals for laboratory testing to determine if their use is necessary and to ensure that trials are ethically conducted. It also exercises oversight over how animals are housed and treated.
While Texas Biomed employs more than 60 professional scientists, researchers and many support staff, it also has more than 100 employees whose job is the care, feeding and breeding of animals there, including veterinarians, vet techs and other professionals. The institute’s 200-acre campus in northwest San Antonio includes the Southwest National Primate Research Center, which is home to more than 2,500 baboons and one of only seven such centers nationally.
After last year’s winner storm Uri, 159 baboons had to have frostbitten fingers, toes, and tail tips amputated, which led to demands by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) that the U.S. Department of Agriculture investigate the institute for neglect.
But the truth is that there was no neglect. Texas Biomed, as required, self-reported the animal injuries to the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare, which subsequently praised the more than 50 animal care professionals who left their own families in homes without heat or electricity to stay around the clock with the animals, an extraordinary effort to safeguard the primates in an extreme weather incident that caught everyone in Texas unprepared and led to many human deaths. No primates at Texas Biomed died, and no citation was issued in response to the unfounded PETA claim.
Recently, Texas Biomed developed the Stand4Science website to combat the disinformation campaign that presents its animal testing as unnecessary and inhumane, and to underscore that the bond funding it was seeking would have been spent in part on facility upgrades that would have made the institute’s animal population better protected in extreme weather.
The day might eventually come when animal testing is no longer a necessary step in the process of developing new drugs and vaccines, but until that happens, the highly regulated use of animals at Texas Biomed and other research institutes will continue to be essential for advancing the good health and welfare of people.
City Council and Bexar County Commissioners can deepen the community’s investment in this remarkable asset and accelerate its growth and smart job creation by assigning funds from the hundreds of millions of dollars sent to the city and county through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) for social and economic relief.
Texas Biomed qualifies for such funding, since it is recognized by the federal government as “critical infrastructure essential to the nation’s security, public health and safety, economic vitality and way of life” in San Antonio.
In the past, I’ve written about San Antonio’s under-appreciated billion-dollar research collaborative formed by Texas Biomed, UT Health San Antonio, UTSA, and the Southwest Research Institute. Leadership at the four partner institutions signed a letter sent to elected officials on Friday in support of the ARPA funding request.
Now is the time for local officials to recognize and support Texas Biomed and the critical research work it undertakes. City Council members who have never set foot on the Texas Biomed campus should visit before buying into any outside campaigns.
Texas Biomed is an asset any other city would be proud to support.
Disclosure: Texas Biomedical Research Institute is a financial supporter of the San Antonio Report. For a full list of business members, click here.