CRACK IT Challenge winners awarded £4.9 million to further their research

CRACK IT Challenges is a two-phase competition that funds collaborations between industry, academics and SMEs to solve problems related to the 3Rs, leading to new products or improved business processes. Large pharmaceutical and chemical industries act as ‘Sponsors’, defining relevant Challenges and providing in-kind contributions, such as access to data, compounds or equipment. In Phase 1 several teams are selected to carry out proof-of-concept studies for each Challenge, but only one team for each Challenge will receive the funding to deliver the full Challenge in Phase 2.

Recently, the Phase 1 CRACK IT Challenge teams from 2013 went head-to-head in ‘Dragons’ Den-style’ interviews. The winner of each Challenge was awarded up to a possible £1 million investment to complete Phase 2.

Today we announce that the five winning teams proceeding to Phase 2 are led by: Dr Selina Wray from UCL (University College London) for UnTangle; Professor Chris Denning from the University of Nottingham for InPulse; Dr Ben Forbes from King’s College London for Inhalation Translation; Dr Martijn Wilmer from the Radboud University Medical Centre for NephroTube; and Professor Paul Kaye from the University of York for Virtual Infectious Disease Research.

The Challenges that the winning teams are tackling cover a wide range of scientific and business problems across different therapeutic areas, each with significant potential to replace, refine or reduce the use of animals in research.

The Virtual Infectious Disease Research Challenge is to develop a reliable computer-based model of the dynamics of infection and response within an individual host. The model is intended to help predict the efficacy of drugs, vaccines and other treatments. A typical rodent efficacy study for new antibiotics or vaccines involves approximately 100 animals per candidate drug. The use of in silico approaches to study disease biology and predict efficacy would reduce the number of animals used. The winning team are developing a computer model approach for studying leishmania infection

Sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer and Roche, the NephroTube Challenge will use novel microtitre plate microfluidics developed by MIMETAS BV in The Netherlands, to build an in vitro assay that can accurately predict tubular toxic effects of drug candidates in the kidneys. The model focuses on replicating the cellular architecture of the kidney tubule, as this is a major site of potential drug-induced nephrotoxicity. Having established the potential utility in Phase I, with a limited subset of known nephrotoxicants, the team will expand upon this in Phase II by establishing a translational correlation between rodent and human based systems on a larger compound set. If toxic effects can be identified early in the drug development process, then animal testing can be avoided for drug candidates that would be destined to fail later in the development process owing to toxicity.

In partnership with Alzheimer's Research UK, Lilly and Janssen, the UnTangle Challenge competition winners will develop a human stem cell-derived neuronal assay to study the spread of the tau protein pathology in Alzheimer’s disease, and also predict the efficacy and any unexpected side effects of new drugs targeting tau. The human tissue model will be more reflective of human disease than animal models, and will also have the potential to reduce the number of animals needed for research.

Phase 2 winner for the Virtual Infectious Disease Challenge, Professor Paul Kaye from The University of York said: “Our research is focused on trying to find new ways to treat and prevent leishmaniasis, one of the most important neglected diseases of poverty. This award from CRACK IT will allow us to develop a ‘virtual laboratory’, where we and others can rapidly conduct drug trials in silico and then share the results with researchers across the world. Our computational approach will not only significantly reduce the number of animals needed to develop new drugs, but also help doctors decide how to use the few drugs they have to best effect in patients.”


Notes for Editors:

Contact the NC3Rs Media Office:

Laura McGuinness, Communications Officer. Email:, Tel: 020 7611 2239, Mob: 07795451836.

1. Background to CRACK IT:

CRACK IT was launched by the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) as the first open innovation platform designed to bring together industry, academia and SMEs to support the development of marketable products and improved business processes with 3Rs benefits.
CRACK IT has two parts:

  • CRACK IT Challenges: A two-phase competition that funds collaborations between industry, academics and SMEs to solve business challenges involving animals.
  • CRACK IT Solutions: A technology partnering hub designed to accelerate the translation of technologies with potential 3Rs impacts (referred to as 'Solutions') out of the science base and into application to maximise the scientific and commercial benefits. Through CRACK IT we work with the pharmaceutical, chemical and consumer product industries, SMEs and academia to bring together bioscience, chemistry, mathematics and engineering communities in defining and solving the challenges of research involving animals.

Register with the CRACK IT website to join our expanding CRACK IT community and have an impact on science, business and the 3Rs.

For further information, please visit the CRACK IT Challenges the website.

2. Phase 2 Challenge winners:

  • UnTangle, Dr Selina Wray, UCL (University College London), £898,416
  • InPulse, Professor Chris Denning, University of Nottingham, £999,915
  • Inhalation Translation, Dr Ben Forbes, King’s College London, £1 million
  • NephroTube, Dr Martijn Wilmer, Radboud University Medical Centre, £999,975
  • Virtual Infectious Disease Research, Professor Paul Kaye, University of York, £996,464

3. For further information on the 2014 Challenges:

The 2014 Challenges have been announced. The 2014 CRACK IT Challenges competition consists of three Challenges identified jointly by the NC3Rs and Sponsors. This year the competition is funded by the NC3Rs and supported by Innovate UK's Small Business Research Initiative with in-kind contribution from the Sponsors.

We are hosting a meeting to launch the competition in central London on 12 September 2014, providing invaluable access to potential new partners and to the Challenge Sponsors. This event is free to attend but registration is essential. The deadline for registration is 5 September 2014.

4. About Eli Lilly and Company (NYSE: LLY)

Lilly is a global healthcare leader that unites caring with discovery to make life better for people around the world. We were founded more than a century ago by a man committed to creating high-quality medicines that meet real needs, and today we remain true to that mission in all our work. Across the globe, Lilly employees work to discover and bring life-changing medicines to those who need them, improve the understanding and management of disease, and give back to communities through philanthropy and volunteerism.

Lilly has been operating in the UK since 1934 and employs approximately 1400 people throughout the country working in sales and marketing, research and development and bio-tech manufacturing. Lilly’s research priorities are aligned with significant UK health needs including diabetes, heart disease, mental health and cancer.

To learn more about Lilly, please visit us at

5. About Alzheimer’s Research UK

Alzheimer’s Research UK is the UK’s leading charity specialising in finding preventions, treatments and a cure for dementia.

To help us defeat dementia, donate today by visiting or calling 0300 111 5555.

We are currently supporting dementia research projects worth over £22 million in leading Universities across the UK.

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