How an alleged monkey smuggling scheme can stifle drug research

The National Association for Biomedical Research and other medical groups are urging federal officials to help amid a shortage of monkeys they say is disrupting research for lifesaving medications. 

In a drafted letter dated March 27, the association and nearly four dozen other organizations said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is denying permits for 60 percent of the nation's supply of nonhuman primates. They called the situation a crisis.

"This disruption will significantly slow the U.S. biopharmaceutical pipeline, stifle scientific advancement, impair research, halt industry-wide economic growth and deprive patients of potentially life-saving treatments," the letter says. "The gravity of this situation cannot be understated. A sustainable solution to this critical issue is urgently needed for all stakeholders."

The problem stems from an alleged monkey-smuggling ring the Justice Department is currently investigating, according to DC News Now and NBC News. Charles River Laboratories, a research lab in Frederick, Mass., imported hundreds of monkeys intended for research from a Cambodia-based supplier, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service denied the shipment's clearance. 

Cambodia is the largest exporter of monkeys used in U.S. research, according to The Washington Post

As the Justice Department investigates whether the animals were poached and brought to the U.S. with falsified paperwork, hundreds of long-tailed macaques are now waiting at the Massachusetts lab, according to the news outlets.

"We have also voluntarily suspended planned, future shipments of Cambodian [nonhuman primates] until such time we and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can develop and implement new procedures to reinforce confidence that the [nonhuman primates] we import from Cambodia are purpose-bred," a Charles River Laboratories spokesperson told Endpoint News

As the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reportedly denies 60 percent of other primate shipments, research organizations and pharmaceutical lobbies in the letter are asking to partner with federal officials  to identify solutions to bolster the strained supply chain for biomedical research.

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