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CRACK IT Challenges for 2020 announced

04 August 2020

Up to £3.5 million funding is available through the 2020 CRACK IT Challenges competition to solve five Challenges identified jointly by the NC3Rs and Sponsors. This annual competition provides UK and EU-based academics and SMEs with the opportunity to apply to develop new 3Rs tools, technologies or approaches and engage with new partners.

CRACK IT Challenges is a 3Rs funding competition for collaborative R&D, run by the NC3Rs to deliver marketable 3Rs products or services for end-users across the bioscience sector*. Challenges are developed in collaboration with Sponsors who provide in-kind contributions and/or funding to support development of the Challenge product. Through this programme we are able to respond directly to major issues facing industry and the bioscience sector related to the use of animals.

The 2020 CRACK IT Challenges have brought new Sponsor collaborations to the programme and co-funding from industry and the public sector. The five Challenges announced today cover diverse areas of science and animal use and are supported by ten Sponsors covering the pharmaceutical and fast-moving consumer goods industries, as well as public sector and academic research organisations. Funding for CRACK IT Challenges is provided by the NC3Rs, and this year we have secured co-funding from Dstl, EPSRC and Unilever to support specific Challenges.

Interested in applying for one of this year's Challenges? Register for our webinars in early September.

The Challenges

Immunomodulatory therapeutics can cause immunotoxicity through on-target enhancement of the immune response. For immune modulating biologics this is assessed in the in vivo T-cell antibody response assay usually carried out in non-human primates. Sponsored by Bayer, GSK, Merck Healthcare KGaA and Novartis Pharma AG, this two-phase Challenge aims to develop a human in vitro T-cell dependent antibody response (TDAR) assay to assess the immune enhancement properties of preclinical immunomodulatory therapeutics.

3Rs benefits: A human in vitro assay developed through this Challenge could reduce the number of non-human primates currently used for assessing immunotoxicity of immune modulating biologics through on-target immune enhancement and better predict clinical outcomes.

There is increasing interest to remove animal-derived products from in vitro assays to improve human relevance and reproducibility, and to reduce the use of animals. Sponsored by AstraZeneca and Unilever, and co-funded by Unilever, this two-phase Challenge aims to adapt established Organisation for Economic Development (OECD) Test Guideline (TG) in vitro assays so that they are free from animal-derived products, delivering a robust, human-relevant (and preferably chemically-defined) version of the assays that demonstrates improved data quality and reproducibility.

3Rs benefits: In the short-term, this Challenge will lead to the development and/or validation of animal-free reagents that will increase the human relevance and reproducibility of the chosen assays and help drive uptake of animal-free reagents. In the longer-term, this could lead to the acceptance of new protocols in the OECD TGs that are free from animal-derived products.

Animal models used in the testing of novel wound therapeutics are invasive and poorly predictive. Sponsored by Dstl and co-funded by Dstl and EPSRC, this two-phase Challenge aims to produce a human-relevant and high throughput in vitro or ex vivo platform that recapitulates the complex structures of skeletal muscle and the pathology of significant injury to them.

3Rs benefits: This Challenge will develop a human relevant in vitro system that will reduce the reliance on animal models for the study of wound healing and the testing of novel wound therapeutics.

Millions of mice are used worldwide in research each year. Ensuring any pain or suffering is kept to a minimum requires careful monitoring of the animals so that appropriate action can be taken, and human endpoints implemented. Sponsored by AstraZeneca, GSK, CRUK Manchester Institute - University of Manchester, The Sainsbury Wellcome Centre (University College London) and Agenda Vets this single-phase Challenge aims to develop an app that uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to automatically detect changes in facial expression and/or body condition, to improve the monitoring of mouse welfare.

3Rs benefits: Automating detection of pain and/or body condition in mice could deliver increased consistency and accuracy in welfare assessments, and reduce individual suffering in large numbers of mice used worldwide in scientific studies and procedures

Tamoxifen is used in the temporal and spatial expression or deletion of genes in mice. However, rodent diet containing tamoxifen is bitter and not readily consumed by mice leading to weight loss. As a result, Tamoxifen is typically administered using invasive methods such as oral gavage. Sponsored by the Mary Lyon Centre, this single-phase Challenge aims to develop a method that allows tamoxifen to be added to rodent chow without changing its palatability or consumption by the animals.

3Rs benefits: Delivering a palatable form of tamoxifen could reduce potential welfare concerns associated with its bitter taste (e.g. weight loss from lack of food) and avoid the need for invasive methods of administration. In addition, it could reduce dose variability, leading to more consistent recombinase activity, decreasing the variability of the phenotyping data yielded from such experiments and resulting in a reduction in the number of animals used.

Interested in applying for one of this year’s Challenges?

We are hosting a series of webinars from 7-10 September 2020 to launch the 2020 CRACK IT Challenges competition. Each webinar will feature a specific Challenge and will include presentations providing an overview of the CRACK IT Challenges programme and how to apply, details of the specific Challenge and an opportunity to ask questions. To register, please visit the NC3Rs Innovation Platform.

Further information about the CRACK IT Challenge competition process can be found on the NC3Rs Innovation Platform.

*Two-phase Challenges are run using the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) provided by Innovate UK (part of UKRI).