By  on March 13, 2012

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and L’Oréal said Monday they will collaborate on a $1.2 million research project funded by the cosmetic giant that is aimed at testing 20 chemicals critical in manufacturing cosmetic products in order to create alternatives to traditional animal-based toxicity tests.

The new research project, unveiled at a news conference at the annual Society of Toxicology meeting in San Francisco, follows an initial smaller collaboration the EPA did with L’Oréal in 2007 and is directed at the potential impact chemicals have on processes in the human body that lead to adverse health effects, said Jared Blumenfeld, EPA administrator for the Pacific Southwest.

Blumenfeld said the EPA has to date tested 1,000 of the 80,0000 chemicals produced worldwide.

“It is amazing that there are about 80,000 chemicals in production worldwide,” said Blumenfeld. “We have very little information on them, so in an effort to move away from animal testing as the main way of determining the response of chemicals and what they will likely be on humans, we created a computer prediction model called ToxCast.”

The EPA launched the computer model and chemical toxicity forecaster in 2007 to test the impact of chemicals on the human body, Blumenfeld said in a phone interview.

So far, the federal government has spent more than $30 million to develop the computer model and test the safety of chemicals, he said.

One of the objectives in partnering with L’Oréal is to determine whether the ToxCast can be used in systemic toxicity tests. L’Oréal is also providing “robust safety data” from a set of chemicals in the cosmetics sector that will expand the types of chemicals assessed by the system.

Laurent Attal, executive vice president at L’Oréal research and innovation, said the company has invested in animal-free toxicology research for more than 30 years.

“Our new L’Oréal Predictive Evaluation Center’s activity is based on new-generation tests, using reconstructed human tissues and automated platforms and will help us to predict earlier the safety of substances for our products,” Attal said.

Patricia Pineau, scientific communications director at L’Oréal, said at the news conference that L’Oréal has invested roughly $800 million in finding new science and technology to replace animal testing over the decades.

“The ToxCast program is really something powerful for what we are requiring” to fully replace animal testing, Pineau said. “The factual data [it provides] we hope will validate the fact that ToxCast will be really one of the tools we need to have in order to end animal testing for chemical toxicology in particular for the cosmetics industry.”

The European Union instituted an animal-testing ban on finished cosmetics products in 2004, followed by a ban on animal testing on ingredients in 2009 and a final ban on marketing animal-tested cosmetics and ingredients in those cosmetics by March 2013. Pineau stressed that L’Oréal committed to moving away from animal testing on finished cosmetics in 1989. “There is a reason large companies still do animal testing, because up until this point, computer models haven’t been sophisticated enough to replace it,” Blumenfeld said. “We hope that ToxCast can finally be that model.”

Blumenfeld said once the testing is done on the computer model, the findings will be made public and will not have to be analyzed again by other companies.

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