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£900k awarded to deliver Phase 1 of the 2020 CRACK IT Challenges competition

09 February 2021

Nine teams have been awarded up to £100k funding each to carry out six-month proof-of-concept studies in Phase 1 of the 2020 Two Phase 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.  

The Two Phase 2020 CRACK IT Challenges include development of in vitro models for immunotoxicology and wound healing, and in vitro assays free from animal-derived reagents. The Challenges are sponsored by seven organisations from across the pharmaceutical, consumer goods and public sectors who are providing in-kind contributions, with co-funding to support specific Challenges from Dstl, EPSRC and Unilever.   

The Challenges and awardees are: 

In vitro TDAR

On-target enhancement of the immune response by immunomodulatory therapeutics can cause immunotoxicology and for immune modulating biologics this is usually assessed in the in vivo T-cell dependent antibody response assay (TDAR) in non-human primates (NHPs). 

Sponsored by Bayer AG, GSK, Merck Healthcare KGaA and Novartis Pharma AG the aim of this Challenge is to develop a human in vitro TDAR assay to assess the immune enhancement properties of preclinical immunomodulatory therapeutics, reducing the use of NHPs for this purpose and better predicting clinical outcomes. 

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

  • Dr Karla Queiroz, Mimetas BV, The Netherlands
  • Jun.-Prof. Dr. Peter Loskill, Eberhard Karls University Tübingen, Germany 
  • Dr Qibo Zhang, University of Liverpool, UK 

Full Challenge information can be found here.  

Animal-free in vitro  

The Organisation for Economic Development (OECD) Guidelines for the Testing of Chemicals, the international standard for assessing the effect of chemicals on human health and the environment, include a growing number of in vitro assays that can be used as alternatives to animal studies. There is increasing interest to remove animal-derived products from in vitro assays to improve human relevance and reproducibility, and reduce the use of animals.   

Sponsored by Unilever and AstraZeneca, and co-funded by Unilever, the aim of this Challenge is to adapt established OECD test guideline (TG) in vitro assays so that they are free from animal-derived products (e.g. fetal bovine serum) to improve human relevance and reproducibility, and help drive uptake of animal-free reagents. In the long term, this Challenge could lead to the acceptance of new protocol(s) in the OECD TGs that are free from animal-derived products. 

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

  • Prof. Dr. Henner Hollert and Dr Andreas Schiwy, Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany
  • Dr Victoria Hutter, ImmuONE Ltd, UK 
  • Dr Carol Treasure, XCellR8 Ltd, UK 

Full Challenge information can be found here.  


Animal models of wound healing to test novel wound therapeutics are invasive and do not fully reflect the tissue and wound healing pathophysiology in humans. Current in vitro and ex vivo models are simplistic or are limited by the length of time they can be kept physiologically viable. 

Sponsored by Dstl and co-funded by Dstl and EPSRC, the aim of the STRATIS Challenge is to develop a human-relevant in vitro or ex vivo model that recapitulates the complex structures of skeletal muscle and the pathology of significant injury to them, to reduce the reliance on animal models.  

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

  • Dr James Dixon, University of Nottingham, UK
  • Prof Mark Lewis, Loughborough University, UK
  • Dr Yung-Yao Lin, Queen Mary University of London, UK 

Full Challenge information can be found here

*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 million can be awarded to one team to deliver the full Challenge. Further information about the CRACK IT Challenges competition can be found here.