Boehringer Ingelheim ends ‘despair test’ on animals

The Boehringer Ingelheim U.S. headquarters, one of the large properties in Ridgefield.

The Boehringer Ingelheim U.S. headquarters, one of the large properties in Ridgefield.

Contributed photo / Hearst Connecticut Media

Following an appeal from PETA, Boehringer Ingelheim (BI) has confirmed that it will no longer use or fund the widely discreditedforced swim (or "despair") test [video], in which mice, rats, and other small animals are placed in inescapable beakers filled with water and made to swim to keep from drowning.

BI—a Fortune 500 pharmaceutical company whose subsidiary BoehringerIngelheim Pharmaceuticals, Inc. is based in Ridgefield—joins Roche, Johnson & Johnson, AbbVie, and DSM in ending its use of this test, and PETA is now calling on Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly, and Pfizer to follow suit.

Between 1993 and 2018, BI published or funded at least 12 studies that describe the use of the forced swim test in experiments involving more than 1,300 mice and rats. Not one of the compounds that was tested in these experiments is currently approved to treat human depression.

"PETA applauds Boehringer Ingelheim for banning this bogus experiment," says PETA neuroscientist Dr. Emily Trunnell. "PETA urges Eli Lilly, Pfizer, and Bristol-Myers Squibb to join the pharmaceutical industry's growing movement to stop using terrifying animals in pointless tests."

Some experimenters had claimed that the forced swim test served as a model of depression in animals and could be used to test the effectiveness of new medications for the condition, but scientists refute this. PETA scientists reviewed published studies and found that dropping animals into water this way was less predictive than a coin toss of a drug's effectiveness in humans. Animals used in these tests frantically try to escape by attempting to climb up the sides of the beakers or even diving underwater in search of an exit. They paddle furiously, desperately trying to keep their heads above water. Eventually, most start to float.

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