Big Pharma is out for blood—horseshoe crabs' blood, that is—and that's not about to change. An effort to promote a synthetic substitute to crab blood in medical safety tests fell short Friday when a powerful US group refused to fully back the switch, Reuters reports. The group, US Pharmacopeia (USP), had seemed ready to support a man-made version in its guide to the drug industry. "There is a consensus on moving forward and USP is fully committed," a top official there told Reuters last year. "Making sure all the stakeholders are on board and all the data has been collected is what’s happening right now." But USP said Friday it would only give the substitute a tentative approval.
Now drug-makers who use the substitute will be expected to guarantee the quality of their testing. "The committee ultimately decided more real-world data" was necessary, said USP. Behind all this was an industry battle between the Swiss biotech Lonza, which backed the substitute, and US-based Charles River Laboratories, which urged caution for safety reasons. Why use crabs' blood at all? The milky-blue stuff clots when it runs into bacterial endotoxins, which helps drug makers find contamination in medical implants and intravenous drugs. Some 70 million such tests are conducted annually and could be worth $1 billion in annual revenue by 2024. But it's no fun for crabs: They're caught at sea, drained of roughly a third of their blood, and returned alive to the water. (Read more Big Pharma stories.)