‘A vital part of research in Davos’

With Davos planning authorities’ stamp of approval, ARI is set for landmark expansion

28 April 2020

The AO Research Institute Davos (ARI) today is on course to begin construction of a state-of-the-art, purpose-built stable facility to house the world’s first specific pathogen free (SPF) flock of sheep outside of North America. Davos planning officials approved the expansion plan in spring 2020.

The 6,575-square-meter zone expansion represents the culmination of five years of ARI efforts to strengthen the AO’s preclinical research through development of a flock of sheep with a defined health status (SPF) in parallel with accompanying education and training and Good Laboratory Practice (GLP) accreditation.

The expansion demonstrates the community’s clear commitment to the AO as a research leader and the AO’s engagement with the local community to ensure that Davos—renowned as “the science city in the Alps” —retains its status as a key research hub in Switzerland, Europe and even beyond internationally.

Preclinical studies involving animals are carried out after exhaustive lab tests and before clinical trials in human patients and are extremely important in ensuring that new treatments are effective and safe. SPF sheep are free of specific diseases and the new purpose-built facility will ensure that the AO’s SPF sheep are not infected by other sheep, wild animals, or by passive transmission of disease through humans or equipment.

ARI Director Geoff Richards said the project is evidence of the AO’s commitment to the highest principles of animal welfare, above and beyond any basic requirement. The SPF flock will allow ARI to reduce and refine animal experiments while improving its research methodology.

“The AO, whenever possible uses other means to develop new treatments that do not involve animals (in silico, in vitro and ex vivio), but there is a need to use animals in preclinical research before treatments can be applied to both humans and animals. We do this with care, caution, and respect, minimizing the burden on the animals,” Richards said. 

Because ARI’s SPF sheep, which are delivered by Cesarean section, are free of specific pathogens, they are healthier than typical farm sheep, and the new facility will make an important contribution in that respect by protecting them from certain pathogens while providing safe, spacious living quarters with enrichment activities. The stable will feature biosecurity barriers, quarantine area, easy-to-clean surfaces, double fences, a changing facility for staff, and a control room.


“We want this facility to be a vital part of research in Davos and we foresee being able to pass on our learnings to the local farming community as well as other countries who may want to establish their own SPF flocks in the future.”

R Geoff Richards, Director AO Research Institute Davos

“This expansion will allow us to keep all ARI sheep on-site, and the zoning change to research zone ensures room for possible AO growth or centralization in the future,” Richards explained. “We want this facility to be a vital part of research in Davos and we foresee being able to pass on our learnings to the local farming community as well as other countries who may want to establish their own SPF flocks in the future.”

ARI veterinarian Stephan Zeiter, Program manager of Preclinical Services, and Focus Area Leader Preclinical Surgery, said the SPF flock will fulfill an unmet need in Europe.

“Sheep without underlying diseases not only increases the reproducibility and safety for the sheep and humans, but we will use fewer sheep in research because there is less variability involved,” Zeiter said . “Our SPF sheep are fed normal, unsterilized hay, so their natural sheep microbiome is unaffected.”

Urban Lanker, Manager Preclinical Facility at ARI, said the new two-story facility will accommodate 240 sheep. The indoor portion of the stable will allow plenty of room per animal and will have clean facilities for supporting lambs as they are born.

“How we look after the lambs once they are delivered by C-section is very important: keeping them warm and healthy, making sure they learn how to drink from the automated milk dispensing system, especially during the first 24 hours, where they need to drink every two hours,” he said . As the flock develops we will not need to use C sections , apart from for bringing fresh genetics into the flock

Richards said the current coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic could unfortunately again delay the start of construction, but he looks forward to completion of the facility by 2021. 

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