Reduce Animal Suffering in AbbVie Experiments

AbbVie Inc.

Progress updates

PETA     January 29 2019

VICTORY! After meeting with PETA, AbbVie has committed to not conducting or funding the forced swim test. The meeting followed PETA's submission of a shareholder resolution calling on four pharmaceutical companies to end the use of the cruel and pointless test. AbbVie has implemented a new policy stating that it "does not currently use or intend to use or fund animal forced swim tests" and has posted this on its website:

Given the animal suffering inherent in the "Forced Swim Test" (FST), its questionable scientific validity, its failure to successfully predict antidepressant activity in AbbVie's marketed products, and the fact that the majority of Americans object to the use of animals in experiments [1], AbbVie should implement a policy that it will not fund, conduct, or commission the use of this test.


In the FST, animals are dropped into a container of water. Terrified that they will drown, they swim frantically trying to find an escape. Eventually they become exhausted and stop struggling. It causes substantial distress and is not required by the government to be conducted.

Authors affiliated with AbbVie (or Abbot prior to separation) have stated that the FST is a model of "behavioral despair" [2]. Our Company uses the FST to purportedly test the "antidepressant-like" [3] effects of compounds on the assumption that the sooner the animal stops swimming, the more "depressed" the animal is. However, there is evidence that floating is an adaptive behavior that saves energy and benefits survival [4], not a sign of depression.

The FST's ability to accurately predict human antidepressants is further undermined by the fact that it yields positive results for compounds that are not prescribed as human antidepressants, like caffeine [5], and negative results for compounds that are [6]. Therefore, useful antidepressant compounds may be abandoned if they do not produce desired results in the FST. Indeed, the applicability of the FST to human depression has been substantially refuted by experts [7].

According to our Company's records, none of the compounds tested by AbbVie using the FST are currently approved to treat human depression, which means that the test did not lead to marketing these compounds as new medications.

We need to develop new therapeutics to treat human depression, but experts cite the use of such animal experiments as a major reason for lack of progress in generating effective treatments [8]. AbbVie should include an assurance in its animal welfare policy [9] that it will no longer fund, conduct, or commission use of the FST.

[1] Strauss (2018) Americans are divided over the use of animals in scientific research.

[2] Giardina (1989); Hancock (1995); Bratcher (2007); Wicke (2007)

[3] Basso (2005); Basso (2009; Geneste (2018)

[4] Molendijk (2015) Immobility in the forced swim test is adaptive and does not reflect depression.

[5] Schechter (1979) Non-specificity of "behavioral despair" as an animal model of depression.

[6] Suman (2018) Failure to detect the action of antidepressants in the forced swim test in Swiss mice; Cryan (2002)

[7] Hendrie (2013) The failure of the antidepressant drug discovery process is systemic.; Garner (2014) The significance of meaning: Why do over 90% of behavioral neuroscience results fail to translate to humans, and what can we do to fix it?; Molendijk (2015); Commons (2017) The rodent forced swim test measures stress-coping strategy, not depression-like behavior.

[8] Hendrie (2013); Garner (2014)

[9] Pfizer Policy on Animal Care.