£2 million awarded for Phase 2 of the 2019 CRACK IT Challenges competition


09 February 2021

£2M has been awarded to two teams to deliver Phase 2 of the 2019 CRACK IT Challenges*.  

CRACK IT Challenges is the NC3Rs open innovation funding competition which brings together industry, academia and SMEs to deliver ready-to-use products and services to replace, reduce and refine animal use. Challenges are developed in collaboration with Sponsors who provide in-kind contributions and/or co-funding to support development of the Challenge product.   

The Challenges and awardees are:

Challenge 32: Transgene Track

Approaches to assess cell and gene therapy biodistribution in vivo require animals (e.g. mice) to be euthanised, are time consuming and do not provide information on the temporal and spatial localisation of the therapy in target tissue and other organs. 

Sponsored by GSK and Novartis, the aim of the Transgene Track Challenge is to develop a sensitive, absolute quantification method for tracking adeno-associated virus (AAV) gene therapies and chimeric antigen receptor T-cells (CAR-T) in vivo. Successful delivery of the Challenge could lead to a reduction in the number of animals used in biodistribution studies by allowing the same animal to be monitored at multiple time points.   

Phase 2 funding has been awarded to a team led by Professor Wolfgang Weber (Technical University of Munich, Germany). The team will develop a reporter gene system and use in vivo PET imaging to track and quantify CAR-T cells and AAVs.  

Full information about this Challenge is available here

Challenge 33: CleanCut

Gene editing of human haemopoietic stem cells (hHSCs) using designer nucleases (e.g. CRISPR) has the potential to cure some blood-related diseases caused by mutations in a single gene. However, off-target gene modifications can generate cells with oncogenic potential. In vivo studies (e.g. in mice) to assess the tumourigenicity of gene edited (GE) products require large numbers of animals, are costly, time consuming and are not always predictive of human safety. 

Sponsored by Bayer, Novartis and Takeda, the key objective of the CleanCut Challenge is to develop a human in vitro model for use in the safety assessment of GE-hHSCs to replace in vivo tumourigenicity studies. 

Phase 2 funding has been awarded to a multi-disciplinary team led by Dr Alessandro Rotilio (MOAB srl, a spin-off of Politecnico di Milano incubated by Hub-Initio). The team will develop a dual model system consisting of 3D organotypic models of the haemopoietic niche and the lymph node using a miniaturised optically accessible bioreactor (MOAB). Assessment of normal and aberrant tumourigenic behaviour of cells will be conducted by characterisation of the circulating cells.  

Full information about this Challenge is available here

*Two Phase CRACK IT Challenges are run using the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) process which is supported by Innovate UK. Further information about the CRACK IT Challenges competition process can be found here.