10 years of CRACK IT webinar: Virtual laboratories for non-animal disease research and toxicity testing

  • NC3Rs
Tuesday 20 April 2021 14:00 to 15:00

This webinar forms part of the CRACK IT 10 year anniversary celebrations and will showcase an in silico platform developed to model the host response to chronic infection by Leishmania parasites, which is now delivering 3Rs benefits across other disease areas and in ecotoxicology testing. The model was developed to address the 2013 Virtual Infectious Disease Research (VIDR) CRACK IT Challenge.

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The LeishSim Virtual Laboratory is a computational model of a mouse spleen chronically infected with the parasites that cause visceral leishmaniasis, a neglected tropical disease affecting millions worldwide. The model is parametrised to allow various genetic, immune and pharmacokinetic factors to be interrogated over the time-course of the infection and the impact of potential treatments to be assessed. Simulations run in LeishSim replaced the use of animals in one set of studies to investigate monotherapy treatments, which would have taken three years and used over 3,500 animals. The best hits from the model output were validated using just 62 mice within a matter of days.

The software underpinning LeishSim has been adapted and customised for other areas relevant to the 3Rs, including toxicological risk assessments. During this webinar, which is free to attend, you will hear from one of the developers of the virtual lab and two end-users whose work has benefitted from the technology. There will be an opportunity to ask questions after the webinar presentation.


  • Professor Jon Timmis, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the University of Sunderland and Co-founder and CTO of Simomics, a company established to commercialise the research developed during the VIDR Challenge. Jon will describe the technology development process of the virtual lab concept, how CRACK IT supported this, how the original platform has been expanded to support scientific discovery and 3Rs advances in a range of applications, and provide an SME perspective on engaging with the CRACK IT programme.

  • Dr Stewart Owen from the Environmental Protection and Global Sustainability departments at AstraZeneca. Stewart will describe how AstraZeneca has worked with Jon to expand the Simomics platform and create the Virtual Fish Ecotoxicology Laboratory for environmental toxicity testing. The platform integrates mathematical models for toxicity, exposure, uptake and metabolism, allowing intelligent prediction of environmental risks posed by human medicinal products. He will also describe the wider scientific and 3Rs impacts of this compared to traditional in vivo approaches.

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The VIDR CRACK IT Challenge, sponsored by the NC3Rs and launched in 2013, aimed to develop a virtual platform to model infection and host response to pathogens for basic research, which would enhance new target development in infectious diseases. Large numbers of animals, typically rodents, are used in efficacy studies for new antibiotics or vaccines each year. The animals are infected with the pathogen of interest after vaccination or treatment with the experimental drug, or without treatment as a control. The resulting disease can cause significant suffering in control animals and those in which treatments are ineffective.

The Challenge was awarded to a team led by Professor Paul Kaye at the University of York, an expert in the immunology of the tropical disease leishmaniasis, and collaborators including Simomics.

Further information about the Leishmania Virtual Laboratory can be found on the NC3Rs Innovation Platform.