Scientists at John’s Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland have developed a database compiling toxicity data of a large number of chemicals. This database could help predict health risks of as yet untested substances, thereby reducing the number animal studies necessary to determine toxicity.
The database makes use of publicly available data collected by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) under the REACH regulation (registration, evaluation, authorization and restriction of chemicals). This data does however fall under the intellectual property and copyrights of the companies who originally supplied them, so the new database initiative will be put on hold until the rights issue between H and the ECHA has been resolved. An ECHA spokesperson was quoted in Nature as saying “the ECHA is ‘keen’ to see the data being used, but that it also needs to protect the rights of the companies that own the data.”
Comparing similar chemicals could provide a useful first indication of potential health risks in a new compound. But comparison cannot predict long-term toxicity effects, or the effect of repeated exposure. Animal studies will still remain necessary in the field of toxicity, but this database could be an important step forward in reducing the use of animals in toxicity research.