America’s Primate Problem

Wild macaques wait for food. (Photo credit should read CFOTO/Future Publishing via Getty Images)

America needs more monkeys. 

To be more precise, the pharmaceutical industry in the United States needs them. Scientists are warning that a shortage of non-human primates (NHPs)—which have served as test subjects for Parkinson’s therapies, coronavirus vaccines, and a host of other medical treatments, preventatives, and cures—is imperiling U.S. drug development and medical research.

“There are tens of thousands of preclinical research projects that depend on NHPs to move forward that potentially could be delayed or could stop entirely,” National Association for Biomedical Research President Matt Bailey told The Dispatch. “This is the kind of thing that could grind drug development to a halt.”

Supply issues preceded COVID-19, but the pandemic turned a troubling trend into a full-blown crisis. Before 2020, about 60 percent of the roughly 30,000 NHPs the U.S. imports annually came from China, which started breeding primates for export decades ago. But China halted shipments of animals in January 2020, when the virus first became an international story. Today the country is unlikely to resume exports as the Chinese government focuses on its own medical and pharmaceutical industries.

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