2022 | News

Protesters outside Rockville biopharmaceutical facility demand parent company release beagles used in testing

Group urges county to rescind funding for Inotiv after Humane Society alleges mistreatment of animals at Indiana lab

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State Sen. Ben Kramer (D-Montgomery County), center, is joined by Montgomery County state delegates Linda Foley, left, and Vaughn Stewart, right, at a protest in front of Inotiv's Rockville facility. The protesters demanded that the pharmaceutical company release 80 beagles that are participating in toxicity testing, with 32 set to be euthanized this month, according to the Humane Society of the United States.

Photo by Dan Schere

This story was updated at 5:10 p.m. on May 13, 2022, to include a comment from a spokesman for the governor’s office, at 5:30 p.m. to include a statement from Inotiv and again at 8:15 p.m. to include a statement from County Executive Marc Elrich

About 30 people protested Friday outside of biopharmaceutical firm Inotiv in Rockville in response to an undercover investigation by the Humane Society of the United States that exposed alleged mistreatment of hundreds of animals used in drug toxicity tests at the company’s Indiana lab.

The protesters included members of the Humane Society as well as United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1994 MCGEO, which represents thousands of Montgomery County government workers. They demanded that Montgomery County rescind a $50,000 grant to the company and that Maryland rescind a $372,000 forgivable loan.

Michael Ricci, a spokesman for Gov. Larry Hogan’s office, wrote in a direct Twitter message to Bethesda Beat on Friday that no money has been awarded to Inotiv.

Inotiv also has a facility in Gaithersburg.

In April, the Humane Society released a report from a seven-month undercover investigation inside of the company’s laboratory in Indiana that conducts toxicology tests on animals. An investigator allegedly saw thousands of animals that participated in more than 70 studies, and endured “prolonged, unalleviated pain” before being killed at the end of the study, according to the report.

The report alleged that Inotiv workers force the drugs into the animals, either through a feeding tube or by injection. The Humane Society also alleges:

  • Some dogs and primates couldn’t eat because the test drugs made them sick, or they lost “significant” body weight.
  • Puppies in a two-week study experienced shaking, fevers, vomiting, rapid heart rates and labored breathing.
  • A lack of staffing to ensure safety in the lab.
  • Primates died in restraint chairs by “accidental hanging due to a lack of monitoring.
  • Beagles were killed during testing for a new non-addictive painkiller.

The Humane Society also alleges in its report that two toxicity studies using 80 beagle puppies is in progress, with 32 of the dogs scheduled to be euthanized sometime this month. The report calls on the lab to stop testing on all animals and find homes for those that can be adopted.

Inotiv released a statement to Bethesda Beat Friday evening, saying that any drug under development in the United States must be tested in a controlled environment to properly assess its safety before being tested on humans.

“Inotiv provides biomedical research services to companies developing life-saving treatments
that span a range of human diseases,” the company said in the statement. “In our Indiana facility, the drug being tested, if successful, will address a specific rare disease affecting newborns, infants and children. This drug must be tested and confirmed to be safe both in toxicity and in dosage before it advances to clinical trials in humans.”

Some of the protesters brought dogs with them, and most held signs, including some with a photo of a dog and the message “Free the Inotiv 80.”

Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, Maryland’s state director for the Humane Society, told Bethesda Beat at the protest Friday that the group hasn’t had an opportunity to see the labs in Maryland, and aren’t sure if animals also are being mistreated there. But she worries about the overall operation of the company, particularly since it plans to expand its facilities in Maryland.

“It’s a business practice at this point. It’s clearly part of how they operate. And we need to get them to change, if they’re going to expand here,” she said.

Bevan-Dangel noted that Maryland passed the Beagle Freedom Act in 2018, sponsored by state Sen. Ben Kramer (D-Montgomery County). The law authorizes scientific labs to adopt out dogs and cats if they are deemed to be healthy after testing.

“The problem with that law is that it doesn’t have any reporting requirements or enforcement requirements, so frankly given what we’re seeing here … we’re very concerned that our companies, our research facilities are just not even making the effort to give these dogs the loving homes they deserve,” Bevan-Dangel said.

Kramer, who attended Friday’s protest, said during the event that the beagles in the Indiana facility are scheduled to be euthanized starting Tuesday.

“If in fact those dogs somehow, in their suffering and this testing, have benefited humankind, Inotiv has an obligation to show them some human kindness and live out what remainder of the lives they have in a loving home, knowing a little bit of happiness,” he said.

Kramer expressed concern about Montgomery County and Maryland financially aiding Inotiv after reading the report from the Humane Society.

“If they want to be here in Montgomery County and the state of Maryland, they are going to have to step up to the plate and be good corporate citizens,” he said.

Bevan-Dangel noted that the practice of drug testing on animals has largely been determined to be ineffective.

“Toxicity tests on animals, almost 90% of the time, prove to not give dependable results,” she said.

In response to questions from Bethesda Beat about the $50,000 grant, County Executive Marc Elrich said in a statement that he isn’t sure if animal testing is the only way to test life-saving products.

“If there are other options, they should not be using animals,” he said in the statement. “And if they are solely dependent on animal testing, then it needs to be as minimal as possible. It cannot be a convenient solution.”

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com