Towards safer and effective chemical risk assessment without animal testing

Horizon 2020 ONTOX project annual meeting (3-4 May 2022, Brussels-Belgium) summarized the first-year work since its launch on 1 May 2021. The project coordinator and scientific advisory board conveyed satisfaction with the initial results, which will serve as a solid basis for establishing new approach methodologies for testing chemicals.

ONTOX aims to develop cutting-edge technologies and approaches that significantly reduce and even replace the need for testing substances in animals. The project will achieve its goals through a novel approach that predicts toxic effects of chemicals in the liver, kidneys and developing brain. Within ONTOX, a major focus is put on pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, biocides and food. A unique feature of ONTOX is the use of artificial intelligence for collecting big data and making sense of them in view of hazard prediction.

“Several systematic review exercises have been performed to collect data to populate the ontologies. Adverse outcome pathways networks focused on selected adversities in the liver, the kidneys and the developing brain have been developed. Chemicals have been selected to set up in vitro test batteries to predict the toxic effects of chemicals in the liver, the kidneys and the developing brain. A group of stakeholders with industrial and regulatory background has been established, and collaboration with two other European projects in the ASPIS cluster has been set up,” concludes Prof. Mathieu Vinken, ONTOX coordinator (Vrije Universiteit Brussel), on the ONTOX first year’s effort.

ONTOX consortium during the first ONTOX annual meeting in Brussels on 3-4 May 2022. Source: CEM

“ONTOX has made significant progress in its first year. This is all the more impressive for launching a project without the possibility of face-to-face meetings. Work package management and coordination is exceptional, with very exciting activities across the board. Early outputs, including data management tooling and physiological maps, show progress towards ONTOX’s strategic goals. We look forward to year 2, especially to seeing how the work towards physiologically-grounded, AI-supported, non-animal toxicity test methods will keep developing,” said Dr. Paul Whaley (Lancaster University), on behalf of the ONTOX scientific advisory board, whose role is to scrutinize if the project is heading towards the desired outcomes.

The primary motivation to conceive ONTOX was the societal, ethical and economic need for animal-free methods to test the safety of chemicals, relying on state-of-the-art methodology and cutting-edge scientific knowledge. The following four years will show the endeavor of this interdisciplinary consortium to stay on track towards the vision for safer human-relevant chemical risk assessment without animal testing.