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£400k awarded to deliver Phase 1 of the 2021 CRACK IT Challenges

17 January 2022

Four teams have been awarded up to £100k funding each to carry out Phase 1 proof-of-concept studies for the 2021 CRACK IT Challenges competition*. 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 Challenges comprise of a Two Phase Challenge and the first Three Phase Mega Challenge with Phase 3 awarded to winners of Phase 2, subject to successful delivery of Phase 2. The Challenges are sponsored by ten organisations from across the pharmaceutical and consumer goods sectors who are providing in-kind contributions, with co-funding to support specific Challenges from Defra and the Environment Agency. Challenge Partners from government agencies, EU initiatives and SMEs will also support Challenge delivery.  

The Challenges and awardees are:  

Virtual Second Species Mega Challenge 

Animals are used in non-clinical studies to assess the efficacy and potential toxic effects of drugs before first use in humans. Two species are usually required for these studies however the research and development landscape has changed considerably since these regulatory requirements were put into place. There is now the potential to apply advanced in silico approaches to support a more robust evidence base and facilitate moving towards using a single (rodent) species for chronic toxicity studies, which could lead to a reduction in the number of animals used for toxicity studies in drug development.  

Sponsored by Bayer AG, Eli Lilly and Company, Genentech Inc., Gilead Sciences Inc., GSK, Merck Healthcare KGaA and Roche, and in partnership with eTransafe – Innovative Medicines Initiative and Simomics Ltd, this Challenge aims to apply advanced computation and mathematical modelling approaches to develop a suite of virtual dog tissues and organs to model toxicological endpoints for new chemical entities.  

One team has been awarded Phase 1 funding for this Challenge:  

  • Dr Stephan Schaller, esqLABS GmbH 

Full Challenge information can be found on the Virtual Second Species Challenge page


SAFE: innovative Safety Assessment of Fish adverse Effects  

In vivo fish testing is frequently required for Environmental Risk Assessment (ERA) to evaluate the potential environmental impact of exposure to one or more chemical stressors. The global effort for the development of New Approach Methodologies (NAMs) aims to provide improved chemical hazard and risk assessment and reduce the reliance on in vivo studies, however these approaches may be limited to pathways that are known to be highly conserved across species. Use of the Adverse Outcome Pathways framework in combination with novel bioassays could fill data gaps and allow the expansion of the use of NAMs in ERA.  

Sponsored by AstraZeneca, Bayer AG and Unilever and in partnership with DEFRA, Health and Safety Executive and the Environment Agency, this Challenge aims to develop a suite of innovative, scalable bioassays for key adverse outcome pathways to replace in fish studies in chemical safety screening and regulatory environmental risk assessment.  

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

  • Dr Carlos Barata, Agencia Estatal Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (AECSIC)  

  • Prof Christer Hogstrand, King’s College London  

  • Prof Kristin Schirmer, Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (Eawag)

Full Challenge information can be found on the SAFE Challenge page.  


*Two Phase Challenges are run using the Small Business Research Imitative (SBRI) process supported by Innovate UK. Phase 1 awardees can apply for Phase 2, where a single contract of up to £1.6 million 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.