The University of South Australia has prohibited the use of the forced swim test (FST), with the University confirming in a statement that the test will not be approved for any future research projects at UniSA and that researchers will be supported to investigate alternative and valid research methodologies.
With Griffith University and the University of Adelaide no longer permitting the FST, the University of South Australia joins scientists all over the world – including at top pharmaceutical companies Bristol Myers Squibb, Pfizer, AstraZeneca, AbbVie, Johnson & Johnson, and Roche – in rejecting the test, with is not a regulatory requirement. In 2021, scientists and regulators from the U.K.’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency published a paper concluding that the FST could not predict the efficacy of potential new antidepressant drugs and discouraged applicants from submitting forced swim test data in their regulatory applications.
Relevant alternatives include testing on human platforms. For example, novel compounds might be identified using mathematical or computer modelling of human systems, or by a drug-repurposing program. These compounds might be tested on human tissues or cells using advanced in vitro methods, such as in organoids or microfluidic systems. Epidemiology is another tool for understanding how to prevent and treat human depression. Further, funds can also be allocated to support and improve access to existing mental health treatment.
It is heartening to see the University reviewing scientific advances globally, as well as responding to public opinion in Australia. But unfortunately, we cannot say the same of all Australian universities.
The forced to smoke campaign still has some way to go, with other Australian universities failing to take the same progressive step. An ongoing action targeting universities still approving the forced swim test can be found here.