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Wednesday, July 17, 2024


New Substance Can Nix Need For Horseshoe Crab Blood

The breeding time for horseshoe crabs is May-June. If found upside down onshore

By Karen Knight

COURT HOUSE – The “bleeding of the horseshoe crab might finally have stopped,” announced the New Jersey Audubon Society’s chief executive officer and president May 10 at a press conference. 
The event was held to share new research that dispels many perceived barriers to the adoption of a safe synthetic alternative to horseshoe crab blood for biomedical testing.
Present was:
* New Jersey first lady Tammy Murphy.
* Revive & Restore, a California-based non-profit bringing new biotech tools to conservation.
* New Jersey Audubon President and CEO Eric Stiles.
* Eli Lilly and Company representatives who discussed the potential for the synthetic alternative, reviewed its safety and efficacy and discussed the benefits this conversion could have on declining horseshoe crabs and migrant birds. 
Over the past 40 years, the population of American horseshoe crabs, an ancient and ecologically important species, has declined because of the over-harvest of crabs and extensive use in biomedical testing. Up to 500,000 horseshoe crabs are captured and bled annually. About 4 percent die during capture and shipping. Once bled of one-third of their blood, another 15-29 percent die.
“Both people and nature will win through the leadership of Eli Lilly to replace the need for harvesting horseshoe crabs for biomedical use,” said Murphy.
The blood of horseshoe crabs has been used for decades to make medicine, officials said. This practice greatly affects migratory birds which eat the crabs’ eggs in New Jersey to give them the energy to fly from the Arctic to tropical climates annually.
“The annual convergence of the horseshoe crab and the Red Knot along the Cape May (County Delaware Bay) shore shows both the important role New Jersey plays in maintaining nature’s delicate balance and the important role corporate actors can play in ensuring a sustainable and healthy horseshoe crab population,” Murphy said.
“It is a treat to witness the Red Knot’s stop off along the shores of the Delaware Bay during their remarkable 10,000-mile migration, and through the efforts of Eli Lilly, this is an annual event we can ensure continues for generations to come,” the first lady added.
Horseshoe crab blood is sensitive to toxins from bacteria. Since the late 1970s, the horseshoe crab has been essential to the safe manufacturing of injectable medications, including vaccines, because a unique clotting protein in its blood is extremely sensitive to bacterial contamination.
It is used to test for contamination during the manufacture of anything that might go inside the human body: every shot, intravenous drip, and implanted medical device.
One quart of horseshoe crab blood is reportedly worth as much as $15,000.
Ryan Phelan, executive director of Revive & Restore, said, “When we learned there was an alternative to bleeding hundreds of thousands of horseshoe crabs annually that was not being used, we felt compelled to find out why and to remove any barriers to adoption.”
Despite being commercially available since 2003, the adoption of the synthetic substance has lagged.
Now, patent protections have ended, and more suppliers are expected to start manufacturing the substance. The synthetic substance could reduce the use of horseshoe blood by 90 percent.
Revive & Restore conducted a review and synthesis of 10 separate studies that evaluated the industry’s standard method of testing for bacterial contaminants.
The study showed that the horseshoe crab DNA could be successfully replicated in a lab, thereby eliminating the need for the blood.
Jay Bolden, a senior scientist with Eli Lilly and Co., said the company saw four benefits to using the synthetic material: ethically better than using animals for testing, more consistent quality product, improved manufacturing efficiency, and favorable costs. 
Bolden said Eli Lilly had updated its processes to use the synthetic substance for testing water in laboratories at two of its manufacturing sites.
It also is using the product in a migraine prevention drug that is expected to be approved shortly.
According to Larry Niles, of Niles-Smith Conservation Services, the 1980s and 1990s saw about 80,000 horseshoe crab eggs per square meter on the Delaware Bay shores.
Now, there are about 8,000 eggs per square meter during the May-June breeding time. They would hatch, and the shoreline would be covered in young crabs, he recalled.
“We had a robust shorebird migration three times what it is today,” he added about that time.
“The Delaware Bay is one of the top five places for shorebirds,” Stiles said. “It’s our responsibility to take the bold actions needed to protect our shoreline, our crabs and the birds that rely on those crabs for their food. The bleeding of the horseshoe crab might finally have stopped with today’s announcement.” 
Horseshoe crabs are only found on the eastern coasts of North America and Asia. They can no longer be caught here due to their importance to the threatened migratory species, the Red Knot.
“Demand for the horseshoe crabs by the bait and biomedical industries over the last three decades have caused significant ecosystem-level impacts,” added David Mizrahi, vice president of Research and Monitoring, New Jersey Audubon.
“Six species of long-distance migrant shorebirds synchronize their northward migration to Arctic nesting grounds, so they arrive in Delaware Bay to gorge on the eggs of spawning horseshoe crabs.
“Recent studies confirm that abundant horseshoe crab populations in Delaware Bay are critically important for the successful migration and breeding of these six species and their long-term conservation,” he added.
“Today we have the opportunity to turn the tide,” Phelan said. “Transitioning away from the bleeding of the horseshoe crabs to a readily available synthetic alternative is a win-win situation, for the crabs, the birds, and people, by ensuring the safe and sustainable manufacturing of pharmaceuticals while sparing the crabs and the birds that depend on them.”
To contact Karen Knight, email

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