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£200k awarded to deliver Phase 1 of the T-ALERT CRACK IT Challenge

13 January 2023

19 January 2023

Two teams have been awarded £100k funding each to carry out Phase 1 proof-of-concept studies to establish an in vitro assay system to evaluate the tumourigenicity of genetically engineered T cell therapies*.

CRACK IT brings together academia, industry and SMEs to develop innovative solutions into marketable products or services that will have significant 3Rs impact across the bioscience sector. This year’s Two Phase Challenge is sponsored by five organisations from across the pharmaceutical sector who are providing in-kind contributions to help solve the Challenge. Challenges are also supported by Partners who provide additional resources to aid Challenge delivery.


Cell therapies are medical treatments where viable cells are grafted into a patient to achieve a therapeutic effect. Engineered T cell therapies such as chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-T cells are emerging as effective therapeutic approaches in the treatment of some cancers. A potential risk associated with the genetic modification of T cells is tumourigenesis. Current approaches to assess the potential for tumourigenicity are limited. For example, in vivo tumourigenicity studies in mice are invasive, can involve a minimum of 30 to 40 immunocompromised animals with studies running for up to one year, and the results of these are often not predictive of clinical outcome.

Sponsored by Novartis, Takeda, AstraZeneca, Sonoma Biotherapeutics and GentiBio, and supported by Challenge Partner the Health and Environmental Sciences Institute (HESI), this Two Phase Challenge aims to develop an in vitro assay that can reliably evaluate tumourigenicity of human-engineered T cell therapies and replace the use of in vivo studies in mice.

Two teams have been awarded Phase 1 funding for this Challenge: 

  • Professor Dr Toni Cathomen – University of Freiburg.
  • Professor Michael Themis – Brunel University London.

Full Challenge information can be found on the T-ALERT Challenge page.


*Two Phase Challenges are run using the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) process supported by Innovate UK. Phase 1 awardees can apply for Phase 2, where a single contract of up to £1million can be awarded to one team to deliver the full Challenge. Further information about the CRACK IT Challenges competition can be found on our Challenge pages.