Animal-free safety testing collective: This is an ‘unparalleled’ initiative, says ICCS head

By Kacey Culliney

- Last updated on GMT

Today, the International Collaboration on Cosmetics Safety (ICCS) is made up of 35 beauty companies, suppliers, trade associations and NGOs, though many more are in final stages of becoming members [Getty Images]
Today, the International Collaboration on Cosmetics Safety (ICCS) is made up of 35 beauty companies, suppliers, trade associations and NGOs, though many more are in final stages of becoming members [Getty Images]

Related tags Animal testing Animal testing alternatives Animal testing ban Regulation NAMs cruelty-free safety In vitro Collaboration compliance

The level and breadth of expertise and experience across the global membership of the International Collaboration on Cosmetics Safety (ICCS) is something very unique in the field of animal-free safety testing and should fuel serious, true change, its president and CEO says.

Earlier this month, a collective of 35 global beauty majors, suppliers, NGOs and trade associations launched the International Collaboration on Cosmetics Safety (ICCS)​. The goal was to advance animal-free safety assessments in cosmetics worldwide via funding and efforts across three pillars: animal-free science development, regulatory acceptance and education and training.

CosmeticsDesign-Europe caught up with Erin Hill, president and CEO of ICCS, and John Chave, acting board chair of ICCS and director-general of Cosmetics Europe – one of several participating trade associations, to find out more.

“We’re hitting the ground running,” ​said Hill. Despite being officially incorporated only a few months ago, the collective was already funding several scientific research initiatives, she said – those considered as “high priority” ​and “gap-filling”.

Funding was being filtered out from ICCS membership, currently from 35 organisations, though many more companies were in final stages of becoming members, she said.

An ‘unparalleled’ collective

Chave said the ICCS was a very different collective for the animal-free safety testing space because it already had a much wider scope of activity thanks to its membership and structure.

“Previously, when industry has worked on the alternatives agenda, the cosmetics industry, I think there has been two things which have characterised it. Firstly, it’s been predominantly in Europe and ICCS is a global initiative. And the second thing is that, for the most part, work has been done and funded by cosmetics brands manufacturers,”​ he said.

“But if you look at the landscape now around alternatives, particularly in the European context, it’s not enough to simply look at products and cosmetics in the market, but the ingredients also further back down the value chain.”

Bringing together a collective with voices from suppliers, therefore, was key, he said, and the involvement of animal-welfare NGOs was also significant. “It’s an important innovation within ICCS that we have the animal welfare organisations and similar organisations in the ICCS pulling very substantially in the same direction as industry, with the same agenda.”

Hill added: “The collective expertise and experience amongst the membership is really unparalleled, so I think we’ll be able to go a long way with the expertise we have on board.”

Three pillars with an ‘interconnected’ strategy

Importantly, she said work would progress well on a global scale because of the structure of the ICCS – with expert groups operating under three pillars and each respectively tapping into existing knowledge, programmes and partnerships.

In sciences, for example, previous work conducted under Cosmetic Europe’s New Science Programme​ would be fully integrated into the ICCS and the collective would also participate in other ongoing initiatives across the globe. The same could be said for education and training, she said, whereby the ICCS team would look to collaborate and partner with existing organisations in this field.

On the regulatory side, Hill said this was a particularly exciting pillar of ICCS given the number of trade associations in the collective offering solid knowledge on regional and country-based laws and requirements. Many of these associations also had strong, existing relationships with regulatory agencies, providing a “basis of dialogue to expand upon” ​which was exceptionally important in advancing animal-free sciences, she said.

“…[ICCS] is not trying to reinvent the wheel, but where there are some gaps, we will be providing some targeted funding and investigation to close those gaps,”​ Hill said.

In some ways, ICCS would be taking a top-down approach, building science and methodologies that matched regulatory expectations but more broadly speaking work would be circular, she said. "So, the regulatory engagement informs the science programme but then we take those learnings and have those flow into our education and training pillar (...) it’s all interconnected really." 

Where are the gaps?

Asked where the current strengths and weaknesses were in animal-free safety assessments for cosmetics, the president and CEO said: “I think most people would agree that, in some of the toxicological end points, we have crossed the finish line. We have really robust methodologies for eye irritation, skin irritation, skin sensitisation, some of the photobiology end points.”

“…The challenge for all of us then is to go into the more complex toxicological end points,” ​she said. And when doing so, not only would ICCS develop new methodologies; it would also develop case studies and present these to regulators to help them gain confidence in these new approaches and transition to wider, and ultimately, full acceptance, she said.

But beyond toxicological end points, the ICCS had also integrated environmental end points as a core focus for advancing animal-free assessments, she said – a far broader subject that looked beyond a single entity and instead at a whole host of flora and fauna. “It’s different, but there absolutely will be learnings about how we demonstrate the utility of these new methods, how we validate them, because we’ve learned a lot in the area of the alternatives for human health effects. So, my hope would be we would be able to move a bit faster on the environmental side.”

Chave said the integration of environmental end points was another aspect that made ICCS unique. “I think it’s fair to say that, in general terms, our industry has always been very comfortable in the human health area, where we have invested significant resources, and perhaps a little bit less so in the environmental area.”

But environmental endpoints, he said, were equally important and very much in the spotlight worldwide as sustainable agendas fast advanced. “We need to develop understanding around environmental end points, and that include new methodologies – that is absolutely paramount. And hence the innovative move to bring environmental end points under the ICCS umbrella.”

A timeline for animal-free change

Asked when the global cosmetics industry could expect to be operating solely on animal-free safety assessments, Hill said: “I have been saying for many years if I had the answer to that, I could make a fortune. I don’t want to give a timeline because I think it’s important we do this in the right way; that we move at the pace, of course advocating strongly to accelerate the pace, that we need to work in partnership with regulatory agencies around the world.”

These new methodologies not only had to be accepted, she said, they also had to be able to be conducted on a global scale, across different regions and countries. And that meant equipment had to be sourced, education had to be there etc. “It’s very nuanced beyond just acceptance. It gets down to the nuts and bolts of being able to conduct that work. So, the end date is important, but the way that we do our work to build confidence collaboratively is very important to me as well.”

In three to five years, she said the hope was that ICCS had a “really good dialogue”​ with key regulatory agencies around the world; had delivered various educational training materials to build confidence in new approaches; and had driven acceptance of new methodologies to a point where it was picking up pace in key areas.

Chave added: “In three to five years, we want to see the shifting of the needle. Plus, ICCS established as the real, major stakeholder in this area, not only for our industry but perhaps more broadly the globe and in different sectors working towards animal alternatives.”

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