INNOVATING RESPONSIBLY

CHALLENGE

In an evolving environment, the Virbac group must provide an innovative, safe range of products and services, developed and produced in respect of animal wellbeing. Customers, veterinarians, farmers and animal owners are becoming increasingly mindful of their impact on the environment and human health. As a result, Virbac is naturally driven to direct its activities accordingly. For the Group, it’s about focusing on research over the long term and offering innovative solutions that address a variety of diseases and production needs, depending on the individual geographic areas in which they appear. It’s also about improving how we go about achieving this while maintaining quality and health standards.

STRATEGY

All of the Group’s activities and products are governed by this responsibility requirement. An intrinsic part of Virbac’s DNA, this strategic area of focus requires us to continually improve the innovative solutions offered and the way in which they are developed. Two areas of focus stand out as fundamental for the Group:
- Virbac innovates and operates within a strong ethical framework, by promoting in-vitro tests as much as possible and by partnering with its stakeholders (suppliers, monitoring authorities, professional associations, etc.);
- the result is products and services that are focused on long-term animal health and that always meet the highest pharmaceutical requirements.

RISKS

The risks related to this innovation challenge have to do with the delays/setbacks tied to innovation projects (incomplete R&D projects, failure to obtain marketing authorizations, loss of license, lack of innovation, etc.). These risks also factor in responsible innovation requirements throughout the product’s life cycle. For more information on the risks associated with this CSR challenge, see the chapter on risk factors page 60 of the annual report, risks related to the innovation process (research, development, and licensing) and/or product registrations.

Responsible innovation and development

AN ETHICAL ENVIRONMENT

To ensure implementation of the fundamental principle of responsibility, the Group has developed an ethical charter for studies on animals that applies to all Group employees; for all studies conducted on animals, in all of the Group’s animal units, and to all service providers (charter attached to contracts). Furthermore, the Group has two policies governing animal studies: “Animal ethics committee” and “Animal welfare”. Key actions implemented:

  • ethics committees are systematically established, governed by the same ethical principles (independence, impartiality, absence of conflicts of interests) and operational principles (diverse membership, study assessments, deliberation, voting, etc.), reviewing 100% of the studies;
  • regarding studies outsourced to third parties or subcontractors, the Group imposes the same level of requirements on its partners (Contract research organizations, universities, etc.). These requirements include the establishment of their own ethical committee and deployment of strict followup procedures for their studies.

ALTERNATIVES TO ANIMAL STUDIES

As an animal health actor, Virbac must rely on animal studies, in accordance with applicable pharmaceutical regulations. However, the Group is committed to limiting them to the necessary minimum, in specific cases where they are required by regulations and no known alternative method is possible.
These animal studies deal mainly with:

  • the animal: verification of the product’s safety (non-toxicity, no impact on reproduction, noncarcinogenic, etc.) and of its efficacy in healing or protecting the target animal;
  • humans: verification of safety for the product user and the absence of residues in species intended for consumption (meat, milk, eggs);
  • the environment: verification of the absence of toxicity for organisms other than the target species that may come in contact with the product.

In general, clinical studies are subject to a regulatory submission or prior trial authorization (depending upon the country) and are conducted by veterinarians. As for preclinical trials, they are governed by regulations that affect every dimension of animal studies: the institutions where the studies are carried out, staff training and qualifications, the sources of the animals and their traceability, prior ethical evaluation of studies and their follow-up, controls by the authorities, ethics committees, and internal audits.

Key actions implemented

The above-mentioned charter is based on the international principles of the 3Rs: Reduce, Replace, Refine animal studies.

  • The 3Rs rule constitutes our guiding principle of substituting animal studies and tests in our laboratories as much as possible and promoting alternative techniques to regulatory agencies worldwide. For example, when possible, carrying out in-vitro tests in lieu of in-vivo tests, or by capitalizing on reproducible tests, on bibliographic research or computer modeling.
  • Furthermore, studies are carried out on the species for which the health products are intended (efficacy and safety studies). As a result, no tests are carried out on primates. Rodents and rabbits are mainly used in the validation phases for new vaccines.
  • Various initiatives (including negotiations with regulatory agencies to eliminate routine tests, the production of batches intended for countries that do not require animal testing, etc.) have resulted in a significant reduction in the number of tests on domestic carnivores, used mainly for quality tests (regulatory requirements for the release of vaccine batches).

Furthermore, since 2013, Virbac has had in place an adoption program in partnership with the main French association dedicated to animal well-being. The objective, ensuring a host family for 100% of adoptable dogs and cats, has been reached.
 

INVOLVING STAKEHOLDERS

Innovating and producing in a responsible manner cannot be accomplished on a consistent basis without involving the entire Virbac ecosystem. This virtuous path, which consists of assuming social responsibility, valuing the women and men who make up this ecosystem and making animal well-being the focus of its projects and activities, comes about through regular dialogue with stakeholders.
Virbac’s relationship with its suppliers reflects this continuity, with regular exchanges, focusing on a close community relationship with local suppliers. As such, the Group has policies and tools to ensure responsible purchasing practices consistent with the Group’s guiding principles (supplier charter, assessment questionnaires that include CSR criteria, targeted audits, follow-up on indicators related to CSR topics, etc.).
For every invitation to tender and for main suppliers, Virbac administers a questionnaire to assess compliance with environmental standards currently in force. Since 2015, new framework contracts have included a provision requiring compliance with these standards. In 2018, the assessment process carried out by Virbac with its new suppliers did not identify any relevant risks. Should Virbac identify a non-compliant supplier, the latter would be required by the Group to comply, or else have its contract terminated.

Innovative and targeted products

ENCOURAGING THE PREVENTIVE USE OF VACCINES

Prevention development, particularly by vaccination, is one of the ways to reduce the use of antibiotics in animal production. Recent investments by Virbac in vaccines research centers and production facilities intended for food-producing animals in France, Australia, Chile, Uruguay and Taiwan reflect this willingness to strengthen the Group’s development in this area. Virbac is also involved in several partnership programs with public research institutes and private companies for the purposes of developing alternatives to antibiotics.

DEVELOPING MODERN ALTERNATIVES TO TRADITIONAL TREATMENTS

Furthermore, the Group’s aim is to develop alternatives to certain traditional therapies, to ensure the well-being of the entire ecosystem and for the sake of protecting the environment.
As part of our responsible innovation process, a Group product (Suprelorin) represents a real alternative to surgical castration in dogs, through hormonal regulation that neutralizes the animal’s reproductive capacity for six months or a year. The animal’s well-being is preserved and, for the sake of the animal and its owner, any irreversible surgical procedure is currently unnecessary.

“ONE HEALTH” APPROACH

Virbac’s ecosystem (its customers, veterinarians, farmers and animal owners) is becoming increasingly mindful of its impact on the environment and human health. Virbac is naturally driven to direct its activities accordingly. To illustrate this approach, Virbac’s innovation impacts the lives of animals first, followed by the lives of humans. For example, Virbac is developing and marketing vaccines for rabies and leishmaniosis in dogs, diseases that are apt to affect humans.
Virbac’s oral anti-rabies vaccines administered to foxes contributed to the eradication of rabies in several European countries, and key public health issues related to this disease are still a concern in several large emerging countries. Innovation is also geared towards societal issues, for example supplying protein to a constantly growing world population. It is in this context that the Group invested in aquaculture, the most productive source of animal protein.
Furthermore, the organization in charge of Group innovation, structured as research centers divided by species and global regions, also affords the Group a range of relevant, suitable products and services to the benefit of all its customers, thanks to this close proximity.
Lastly, the Virbac corporate foundation’s mission is first and foremost to raise awareness, educate and inform the public about respect for and responsibility towards animals; and secondly, to support programs that place animal health at the center of the health of ecosystems by protecting and promoting health care for pets or wild animals in their natural habitat and implementing educational or awareness campaigns among local communities.
The foundation fulfills its objectives by developing initiatives and partnerships with health professionals, veterinary practices, regional and local communities and French and international institutions.

AIMS & INDICATORS

Reducing animal studies in R&D studies and quality controls

R&D STUDIES: 14%

Out of the 5,598 rodents and rabbits used in studies, 1,286, or 23%, were used for the set-up and development of alternative methods.
This temporary phase makes it possible to prove the reliability of alternative methods, particularly for the quality control of vaccines, and to foresee a significant medium-term reduction in the use of animals:

  • including rodents: 89.71%
  • including rabbits: 7.26%
  • including food producing animals: 1.09%
  • including domestic carnivores: 1.94%

QUALITY CONTROL: 86%
(regulatory trials for the release of vaccines)

36,361 animals were used as part of Quality Control activities:

  • including rodents: 96.48%
  • including rabbits: 2.39%
  • including food producing animals: 1.03%
  • including domestic carnivores: 0.10%

0,10% of domestic carnivores are used for the Target animal batch safety test (TABST) still required by several countries outside of Europe in order to release vaccines. Over the past few years, Virbac has made a major effort to reduce the number of tests and animals (-80% between 2013 and 2018).