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10 years of CRACK IT: A timeline of major milestones

2021 marks the 10 year anniversary of the NC3Rs’ open innovation platform CRACK IT Challenges. The programme was launched in 2011 to connect big business, academia and small companies across sectors in delivering ready-to-use products and services to replace, reduce and refine the use of animals, speed up product development and reduce R&D costs.

The timeline below showcases the major milestones CRACK IT Challenges has achieved over the last decade. We have included operational milestones as well as scientific, 3Rs and commercial impacts as the evolution of the programme has been critical in delivering a mechanism that supports 3Rs technologies and products in crossing the 3Rs 'valley of death’ – a key objective of NC3Rs’ mission and fundamental to CRACK IT Challenges.

Each month during 2021 we will showcase different aspects of the programme, focusing on the 3Rs products that have been developed, their application and the scientific, business and animal welfare benefits they deliver.

CRACKIT 10 - Ten years of innovation

10 Years of CRACK IT celebrations and beyond...

2021 marks the 10 year anniversary of the CRACK IT Challenges open innovation programme. With at least two new products due to be launched in the coming months, there's still plenty to come from this innovative platform. Watch this space!

First co-funding from an Industry Sponsor

We secured our first corporate funding towards a specific Challenge with Unilever Sponsoring and co-funding the Animal free in vitro Challenge. The Challenge aims to adapt established in vitro assays so that they are free from animal-derived products to improve data quality and reproducibility.

PRODUCT: QSAR model for respiratory irritants

From the Respiratox Challenge, a free-to-use QSAR model is launched to predict human respiratory irritancy of organic chemical compounds by entering structural information, reducing the reliance on animal models.

PRODUCT: Neuroscreen 3D

On completion of the Neuratect Challenge, Mimetas launch their human CNS toxicity model called Neuroscreen 3D. The three-dimensional model uses human stem cells for the assessment of neurotoxicity and seizure liability, reducing the need for animal studies in toxicology screening and detection of seizure liability.

2019 CRACK IT Review published

A publication reflecting on the first eight years of CRACK IT and how it has achieved business, scientific and 3Rs impacts through open innovation and collaboration.

First University Sponsors

We worked with our first academic Sponsors- Sheffield University joining the Sharp and to the Point Challenge to develop a device that reduces needle deadspace for small volumes to eliminate the re-use of needles in rodents.


Delivery of the Virtual Infectious Disease Research Challenge sees the launch of the LeishSim Virtual Laboratory hosted by Simomics. LeishSim models mouse spleen sections and the host response to chronic infection by leishmania parasites and reduces the number of animals used in the development of treatments.

PRODUCT: Physiologically-relevant models and technologies

A series of complimentary platforms and models developed and validated in the InPulse Challenge are available. These include three-dimensional engineered heart tissues, fully functional human induced pluripotent stem cell-derived cardiomyocytes for preclinical safety assessment and a new open-source software platform for the measurement of cardiomyocyte and cardiac muscle contraction.

PRODUCT: Human kidney model

Mimetas launch their human kidney model following delivery of the Nephrotube Challenge. The model comprises perfused epithelial kidney proximal tubules that can replace the use of animal models for a variety of basic and applied studies of the kidney.

PRODUCT: C.elegans model for DART testing

Vivaltes, a company formed through the PREDART CRACK IT Challenge is launched, offering a medium-throughput screening service using non-mammalian Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) for developmental and reproductive toxicity (DART).

PRODUCT: TaiNi (plus, the first “CRACK IT” company was formed)

We made our first Business Growth Scheme award which led to the launch of the first company established from CRACK IT Challenges: TainiTec was spun out from Imperial College London to commercialise TaiNi, the ultralight weight wireless device for recording neural activity from mice, developed through the 2011 Cognition Challenge.

Business Growth Scheme introduced

A new funding scheme to support technologies and products delivered through Challenges in bridging the 3Rs “valley of death” and maximising their uptake by the biosciences community.

PRODUCT: iSafeRat®

The iSafeRat® Skin/Eye Irritation/Corrosion Prediction Model from KreaTis is launched as the output of the QSARs Challenge. The model predicts the skin and eye irritation and corrosivity potential of chemical substances and aims to replace in vivo animal studies in the development of new chemical products.

PRODUCT: Cell lines added to EBiSC

The Challenge product from the BADips Challenge is launched. Human induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) lines developed during the Challenge from multiple family members affected by bipolar and major depressive disorder are banked with the European Bank of induced Stem Cells (EBiSC) to be available to the wider research community to provide human relevant cell models of disease.

CRACK IT Advisory Panel formed

A new panel comprised of science and innovation experts was formed to advise on the programme and to offer guidance and mentoring to Challenge contractors to help their projects move towards commercialisation.

PRODUCT: Home Cage Analyser

Our first Challenge product from the Rodent Big Brother Challenge was launched. Developed by Actual Analytics, the Home Cage Analyser provides real time non-invasive behavioural monitoring of rodents in their home cage with the ability to automatically detect specific behaviours.

Engaging with SMEs

Recognising the benefits of planning for commercial deployment early in the Challenge delivery, we placed greater emphasis on SMEs leading Phase 2 applications so that there is a clear route to market for products and services.

Partnership with research charity sector

We secured our first Sponsorship and co-funding from the charity sector, partnering with Alzheimer’s Research UK on the Challenge UnTangle to develop physiologically relevant human assays to predict the efficacy and unexpected pharmacological effects of new therapies targeting tau in Alzheimer’s disease.

First Challenges awarded

The first CRACK IT awards are made to five research teams, tackling a range of Challenges involving skills such as low power electronics, machine learning and the development of complex in vitro models.

Two-Phase approach introduced

Two-Phase Challenges allow up to three teams to compete for six months in Phase 1. This enabled proof-of-concept work to be conducted prior to the selection of one project team to secure the contract for Phase 2. This allowed us to take more risk on highly innovative projects that use different approaches early on before a final decision and larger financial and resource investment is made, helping to de-risk the process.

We also introduced shorter-term Single-Phase Challenges to deliver rapid application of existing technologies to new product areas.

CRACK IT Challenges launched

CRACK IT, the first open innovation funding competition, is launched, bringing together big business, academia and SMEs to address research Challenges in the 3Rs.