Commentary: Charles River Labs is committed to doing right by horseshoe crabs

As a native South Carolinian and senior corporate vice president of Charles River Laboratories in Charleston, I was appalled by the inaccurate accusations from Defenders of Wildlife in an Oct. 10 op-ed, “Cape Romain is protected, but work remains to safeguard SC’s horseshoe crab.” Out-of-state environmentalists are irresponsibly using misinformation that could put your health at risk, and that is dangerous.

The facts and the science are clear: The Limulus amebocyte lysate (LAL) obtained from the Atlantic horseshoe crab is critical to the safety of patients around the globe. This unique, natural substance is used to test every injectable pharmaceutical and implantable medical device, including every approved COVID-19 vaccine, for contamination. Without these tests, endotoxins could enter your body and produce sepsis, which can be life-threatening.

Charles River has been manufacturing these tests in Charleston County for more than 34 years. We have invested more than $70 million in our operation over the past 25 years and employ more than 300 people. We take pride in our work in developing quality control microbial testing solutions globally and servicing more than 6,000 customers in 101 countries.

Recently, we have been responding to a variety of concerned special-interest groups over the use of horseshoe crab blood within the biopharmaceutical industry. We welcome questions and conversations on this topic. These are the facts: We partner with licensed local fishermen to hand-collect horseshoe crabs. They are transported to our facility in Charleston County, where they are cleaned, and we extract a portion of their blood. They are then returned to the water, unharmed. All of this we strive to complete within 24 hours.

Last week, Christian Hunt of Defenders of Wildlife wrote that a synthetic alternative to FDA-approved LAL tests is “readily” available. This is incorrect. Synthetic LAL is not readily available, and more importantly, it is not licensed by the FDA. While offered for a very narrow sampling of pharmaceuticals, no industry leader has moved 100% to synthetic LAL. Why? If we stop using horseshoe crab-derived LAL, we cannot guarantee the safety of IVs, syringes and vaccines, among many other medical products. This is an unacceptable risk to patient safety.

This does not mean alternatives may not be viable one day. Charles River is researching, and will continue to study, alternative ways to do what we do best: keep patients safe from bacteria and infection when they are in their most vulnerable medical state. We are investing in the research and development of our own synthetic alternatives. While we work to prove these alternatives are safe and effective, we are also reducing how much horseshoe crab-derived LAL is required for each test. Our FDA-licensed LAL cartridge technology reduces the amount of raw LAL needed by 95%.

Charles River is committed to doing what’s right, which is why we supported legislation to ban the use of horseshoe crabs as bait for eel and welk in the Southeast. South Carolina is the only state with this protection.

The Oct. 10 op-ed claimed that “DNR noted as early as 2012 that ‘worrisome’ decline in crab sampling were correlated with increases in harvesting,” but that information is based on a nearly decade-old report. A more current report, released in 2019 by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, stated that horseshoe crab populations are strong along South Carolina’s coast.

South Carolina is in a unique and critical position of leadership in the global biopharmaceutical supply chain. Over the past few months, our company has been meeting with S.C. environmental groups and local leaders to have honest conversations. We live here, and we care about wildlife and the environment. We want to work with all reasonable parties to maintain the critical balance between protecting the environment and ensuring that our global public health system is safe and effective.

Visit hsc.criver.com/south-carolina.html for more facts and information.

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