[Ed. Note: Please watch undercover video from another Covance facility.]
By Garin Groff, EastValleyTribune.com
Opponents of Covance’s Chandler facility say they’ll remain active even as the drug development services company begins shutting down the $150 million facility this year.
Animal rights activists say they’ll work to adopt animals or to protest any similar user from attempting to set up similar operations in the controversial facility that opened three years ago.
Activists considered Covance’s decision to close only a partial victory, said Jan McClellan, a spokeswoman for Citizens Against Covance.
“We’re relieved but not completely because we don’t know what’s being left at that site,” McCellan said. “Things may not show up until after they’re gone.”
The group said chemicals or animal waste that flows into city sewers may be detected only in the future.
The company decided to close the facility because of changes in the pharmaceutical industry, Covance spokeswoman Melissa Thompson said. Companies are reducing research and development budgets, which has led them to do more in-house testing as an interim step to determine if more rigorous study is justified, she said. The closure is estimated to save Covance $20 million a year.
Covance will wind down operations by the end of the year and move to sell the 77-acre site and its 280,000-square-foot building near the Chandler Municipal Airport.
The company is offering transition assistance to its 130 Chandler employees and encouraging them to apply for jobs elsewhere.
Citizens Against Covance wants to work with adoption agencies and primate refuges to place animals from the Chandler facility when it closes, McCellan said. Thompson ruled out that possibility.
“They’ll be transferred to other sites,” she said.
The company would not disclose how many animals it has.
Covance opened the Chandler site in 2009 after opponents failed to block it because they argued the company would abuse animals, cause air and water pollution and increase the risk of exposure to toxic chemicals and diseases.
Thompson said Covance follows ethical and regulatory guidelines while testing. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires animal testing to validate new drugs.
“The use of animals in scientific research is essential to developing safe and effective medicine,” Thompson said.
Despite the controversy over Covance, Chandler considered the company as something that could attract other bioscience firms that pay high-wage jobs. The company initially developed 27 of its 77 acres and anticipated it would expand to employ 2,000.
McClellan said Covance opponents will fight to prevent a similar company that might consider using the facility.
Stephanie Nichols-Young, a Valley attorney who works on animal cases, said she doesn’t expect the same kind of company to buy the facility because animal testing is becoming less common. Other tests conducted in the area are on a much smaller scale and within universities or clinics, she said.
“We’ve never seen anything like this before, so I think it would be unlikely that something like this would come in. But it’s something to be vigilant about,” Nichols-Young said.