£1 million challenge funding awarded to develop animal research alternatives and refinements

The CRACK IT open-innovation platform has awarded £993,000 to 11 challenge finalists who have been given just six months to develop the most successful proof-of-concepts for five business and technology challenges in preclinical research.

The platform primarily contributes to funding replacement, reduction and refinement (3Rs) in the use of animals in research and testing and is the first to utilise a two-phase approach specifically for this purpose, which combines industry sponsors with research council funding.

A Phase 1 proof-of-concept stage has been introduced to the platform to enable the exploration of more high-risk, innovative technologies and improve the chances of a viable product at the end of the project.

A flagship initiative of the UK's National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs), CRACK IT aims to develop new technologies to benefit the 3Rs from challenges put forward by industry and academic sponsors. A mixing pot of industry, academic institutions and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), CRACK IT combines funding with in-kind support from the sponsors - such as equipment and data.

2012 CRACK IT Challenges are:

  • The development of a cell-based/invertebrate approach to reproductive and toxicity screening to reduce and replace current mammalian methods.
  • Deploying a system to supply and use human, rather than animal, dorsal root ganglia for testing potential analgesic drugs.
  • Development of an imaging technique for detecting the distribution of large biomolecules in rodents, which in addition to reducing the use of animals will enable efficacy and safety studies to be ended earlier.
  • To improve rodent welfare, building a non-invasive system for monitoring mice in their home cage environment during behavioural studies.

The first CRACK IT 'mini challenge' funds the development of an injection aid suitable for use in rabbit studies to avoid potential eye damage associated with intravitreal injection. A marketable product is expected in six months.

The new two-phased approach has seen a total of 21 entrants showcasing their solutions to sponsors for up to £100,000 Phase 1 funding each for proof-of-concept development. Finalists will later pitch these proof-of-concepts in a 'Dragon's Den' style interview in July 2013, after which the successful challenge winners will be chosen to go through to Phase 2. Phase 2 winners receive up to £1 million further funding and 3 years to complete product development. Unsuccessful finalists may be given the option to combine or share data with challenge winners.

Making the announcement ahead of the NC3R's Annual Science Review meeting in London, Dr Vicky Robinson, Chief Executive, NC3Rs, said:

"CRACK IT supports SMEs and universities to develop their own marketable technology solutions. It is a leading example to the international scientific community of how the UK is using the latest approaches to fund alternatives to animal models and developing novel solutions to improve welfare where they continue to be used. Evolving the competition with a Phase 1 proof-of-concept approach ensures that more applicants get the chance to develop their ideas while reducing risk to the NC3Rs."

Additional funding to the NC3Rs from the Technology Strategy Board's SBRI Programme and the Medical Research Council has made the Phase 1 proof-of-concept stage possible. Collaborating with the Technology Strategy Board is allowing the Centre to award contracts to universities, spin-off companies and SMEs. The new investment builds on the £3.5 million already funded under the CRACK IT scheme.


Notes to Editors:

For more information please contact the NC3Rs media office.

  1. About CRACK IT: CRACK IT is an open innovation platform from the NC3Rs, launched in 2011 to bridge the gap between scientific research and its wider use and commercialisation with the primary benefit being to replace and reduce the need for animals in research and testing, and improve animal welfare where they continue to be used. Designed to tackle the challenges of using animals for research, CRACK IT focuses on improving business processes and/or developing marketable products. It aims to increase scientific and technological innovation in the 3Rs by connecting the industrial, academic and SME sectors. CRACK IT is formed of two initiatives, CRACK IT Challenges and CRACK IT Solutions. CRACK IT Challenges is the challenge-led funding platform that provides up to £1m over 3-years in a two-phase process. Successfully completing Phase 1 proof-of-concept studies provides a gateway to full funding in Phase 2 after pitching against other Phase 1 finalists in a Dragon’s Den style interview with sponsors. CRACK IT Mini Challenges provide up to £50k in a close-to-market funding scheme for already proven concepts or prototypes. CRACK IT Solutions is a partnering hub launched in 2012 for academics and SMEs to showcase their own 3Rs solutions to the wider scientific community for further development, commercialisation and/or adoption. www.crackit.org.uk.
  2. CRACK IT Challenges 2012 winners:
  • PREDART: Prediction of human developmental and reproductive toxicity through non-mammalian assays. This challenge is to develop a screen for reproductive and developmental toxicity testing using cell-based assays or invertebrates, which will reduce the need for many of the mammalian studies which are currently conducted during chemical development. The standard tests for studies of this type use around 2,500 animals per chemical, typically rats and rabbits. Around 90% of the 54 million animals predicted to be used under REACH will be for this purpose. Funded by NC3Rs and sponsored by Shell and Syngenta, three Phase 1 awards have been made to:
    • Professor Raymond Pieters, Utrecht University, Netherlands
    • Professor Wayne Glasse-Davies, Brainwave Discovery, UK
    • Dr. Nils Klüver, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research GmbH - UFZ, Germany
  • DRGNET: Enabling access to primary human dorsal root ganglion neurons for drug target identification and pharmacological testing. This challenge is to develop a viable system for the supply and use of human, rather than animal, dorsal root ganglia (DRGs) for testing potential analgesic drugs. Animals such as mice, dogs and non-human primates are typically used as a source of DRGs. There is a demand for more physiologically relevant systems to assess efficacy, including sourcing DRGs from human post-mortem or surgical tissue. Funded by NC3Rs and sponsored by Pfizer Neusentis and Grunenthal, two Phase 1 awards have been made to:
    • Professor Praveen Anand, Imperial College London, UK
    • Professor Andrew Hart, Glasgow University NHS, UK.
  • ProBE IT: Determining the biodistribution properties of biological entities through the use of advanced imaging techniques. To develop a non-invasive imaging approach for detecting and quantifying large biomolecules, which will refine how animals are used in biodistribution studies. Unlike small molecule drugs, there is no established method for measuring how biomolecules distribute into tissues after administration to an animal, which can inform researchers about drug effects. Currently this can only be assessed ex vivo and requires around 70 rats or mice per drug with organs analysed at specific time points. Funded by NC3Rs and sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline, two Phase 1 awards have been made to:
    • Dr. James McGinty, Imperial College London, UK
    • Professor Neil Williams, KWS Biotest, UK.
  • Rodent Little Brother: Measurement of mouse activity, behavior and interaction in the home cage. To develop a non-invasive monitoring system for tracking, recording and analysing a range of rodent behaviours whilst mice are housed in groups, undisturbed in their home cage environment. This will improve the welfare of hundreds of thousands of mice used in behavioural tests worldwide. These studies often require mice to be singly housed or moved to unfamiliar environments, which can be stressful for the animals and lead to data variability. Funded by NC3Rs and sponsored by MRC Harwell, the initiatives first academic sponsor, three Phase 1 awards have been made to:
    • Professor Douglas Armstrong, Actual Analytics, UK
    • Dr. Valter Tucci, Italian Institute of Technology, Italy
    • Professor York Winter, Phenosys, Germany. 
  • CRACK IT Mini Challenge winner 2012: RETINAS: Refinement of techniques for intravitrial injection to avoid side effects in rabbits. The RETINAS Mini Challenge is to design, develop and validate a device to facilitate and standardise intravitreal (IVT) drug delivery to rabbits. Treatment of degenerative disease of the eye, such as age-related macular degeneration, is becoming more common with many treatments requiring injection of medicine directly into the eye. As a result of this, IVT injection is now a commonly used technique in pre-clinical research for drug administration. An IVT injection procedure for rabbits which minimises the risk of adverse effects associated with needle insertion will improve data quality, animal welfare and reduce the number of animals needed per experiment.  Funded by NC3Rs and sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline, the challenge winner is:
    • Allen Pearson, Origin Product Design, UK (£50,000)
  1.  About the NC3Rs:
    The NC3Rs is an independent scientific organisation which leads on the discovery, development and promotion of new ways to replace, reduce and refine the use of animals in research and testing (the 3Rs). It is supported primarily by Government, but also receives funding from the charitable and industrial sectors. The Centre has an annual budget of approximately £6.1 million and is the UK’s major funder of 3Rs research. 
  2. About the Technology Strategy Board:
    The Technology Strategy Board is the UK’s innovation agency.  Its goal is to accelerate economic growth by stimulating and supporting business-led innovation.  Sponsored by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), the Technology Strategy Board brings together business, research and the public sector, supporting and accelerating the development of innovative products and services to meet market needs, tackle major societal challenges and help build the future economy. For more information please visit www.innovateuk.org.
    The SBRI programme uses the power of government procurement to drive innovation.  It provides opportunities for innovative companies to engage with the public sector to solve specific problems.  Competitions for new technologies and ideas are run on specific topics and aim to engage a broad range of organisations.  SBRI enables the public sector to engage with industry during the early stages of development, supporting projects through the stages of feasibility and prototyping.  http://www.innovateuk.org/deliveringinnovation/smallbusinessresearchinitiative.ashx
  3. About the Medical Research Council:
    The Medical Research Council has been at the forefront of scientific discovery to improve human health. Founded in 1913 to tackle tuberculosis, the MRC now invests taxpayers’ money in some of the best medical research in the world across every area of health. Twenty-nine MRC-funded researchers have won Nobel prizes in a wide range of disciplines, and MRC scientists have been behind such diverse discoveries as vitamins, the structure of DNA and the link between smoking and cancer, as well as achievements such as pioneering the use of randomised controlled trials, the invention of MRI scanning, and the development of a group of antibodies used in the making of some of the most successful drugs ever developed. Today, MRC-funded scientists tackle some of the greatest health problems facing humanity in the 21st century, from the rising tide of chronic diseases associated with ageing to the threats posed by rapidly mutating micro-organisms. www.mrc.ac.uk The MRC Centenary Timeline chronicles 100 years of life-changing discoveries and shows how our research has had a lasting influence on healthcare and wellbeing in the UK and globally, right up to the present day. www.centenary.mrc.ac.uk


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