Thomas Hartung Leaving ECVAM

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In the Spotlight

Thomas Hartung Leaving ECVAM

Published: May 15, 2008
Dr. Thomas Hartung, Head of the European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods (ECVAM) since 2002, will be moving to a new position within the European Commission effective May 1.

The announcement came as a surprise to some observers, in light of the many achievements of ECVAM under Dr. Hartung’s leadership, as well as the impending 2009/2013 deadlines for replacing animal tests for cosmetic ingredient testing in the EU.

In an April 14 European Voice article, the move was described by a European Commission (EC) spokesperson as “part of normal rotation within the Commission.” However, the same article also reports that six Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) drafted a letter of protest claiming that Dr. Hartung’s dispute with the EC over cuts in ECVAM’s budget instigated his removal. The MEP’s called for a reversal of the decision to remove Dr. Hartung, and criticized the EC for their waning support to replace animal testing.

These recent events also follow Dr. Hartung’s criticism in 2007 of industry’s lack of sufficient support for alternative methods development. Many of the methods reviewed by ECVAM have not yet been accepted for use by regulatory authorities, another area where increased industry input is needed. Several months later, similar criticism of industry and academia for insufficient support for alternatives was leveled by Janez Potonik, the EU Science and Research Commissioner. He called on companies to more openly share research and testing results, and emphasized “greater communication as a key area for improvement.” Improved communication between ECVAM and regulators to address regulatory needs for new methods was another problem cited by Mr. Potonik. The connection of these issues raised in 2007 to Hartung’s recent reassignment, if any, was not addressed in the recent announcement.

Dr. Hartung released a short letter to friends and colleagues describing in a positive and forward looking manner his “change of responsibility,” and summarizing the many accomplishments of ECVAM over his more than five years as its Head. These achievements include almost 300 publications by ECVAM staff, and the more than doubling of ESAC statements on the validity of alternative test methods (from 16 to 34) with many more in the pipeline.

Dr. William Stokes, Director of NICEATM (National Toxicology Program Interagency Center for Evaluation of Alternative Toxicological Methods) and Executive Director of ICCVAM (Interagency Coordinating Committee on the Validation of Alternative Methods), commented to AltTox that Dr. Hartung had strengthened international cooperation and coordination among ECVAM, NICEATM/ICCVAM (the US counterpart to ECVAM), and JaCVAM (Japanese Center for the Validation of Alternative Methods). His efforts led to the first international validation study supported by the three centers, which is the type of collaborative effort essential to speeding up the international adoption of new test methods.

Dr. Hartung is recognized by his peers and colleagues as a tireless supporter, both as a scientist and an administrator, of methods to replace animals in testing. His vision and leadership have fueled ECVAM’s continued growth as the unrivaled world leader in the development and validation of alternative methods to replace animal use. His successes are truly laudable. We wish him well in his new role, which we hope will afford him the opportunity to continue to have a hand in the alternatives field.