CRACK IT Phase 1 Challenges: £600k awarded

Six teams have been awarded over half a million pounds of funding in the latest Phase 1 proof-of-concept stage of the NC3Rs CRACK IT Challenges competition*.

CRACK IT Challenges brings together industry, academia and SMEs to tackle current scientific questions (‘Challenges’) that have the potential to deliver commercial benefits and reduce the reliance on the use of animals in research. In 2016 there were two Challenges which were run in two phases.


Osteo-chip – ‘Developing an in vitro model that recapitulates the human osteoarthritic joint’

Sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline and co-funded by Arthritis Research UK and EPSRC, this Challenge aims to develop a device based on human tissue or multiple human cell types in a co-culture system, for research and drug development in osteoarthritis (OA).

OA is a common chronic musculoskeletal disease that leads to joint pain, movement impairment and ultimately joint failure. OA affects nine million people in the UK alone. A range of animal models (mouse, rat and guinea pig) are used in the investigation of OA treatments to monitor the pain and extent of cartilage degradation associated with the onset and progression of disease. These animal studies are often severe in nature and long-term in duration, resulting in high levels of chronic pain experienced by the animals. The models are also limited in their translation to human disease.

The key to this Challenge will be to develop a model which recapitulates the human condition and is able to model early and late stage disease.

Successful Phase 1 applicants for Osteo-Chip:

  • Dr Astrid Bakker, ACTA, University of Amsterdam & VU University Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
  • Professor Kenneth Dalgarno, Newcastle University.
  • Dr Deborah Mason, Cardiff University.


Retinal 3D – ‘Establishing a Physiologically-Competent Human Retinal 3D Model’

Sponsored by Roche, Merck and Novartis, the overall aim of this Challenge is to establish a physiologically-competent human 3D retinal cell model that consists of all the major cell types of the retina and is predictive of human physiology. The model also needs to capture key morphological and functional features which can be easily addressed with a panel of functional readouts.

There are currently more than 600 R&D projects in the field of ophthalmology worldwide. In ophthalmological drug discovery and development, there are no adequate in vitro models for efficacy and safety screening, mainly due to these models being unable to recapitulate the complex structure of the mature human retina. As a result, the majority of studies are performed in animals, typically rodents and rabbits.

Development of a human relevant retinal cell model has the potential to reduce and replace the use of animals in the discovery and development of new ophthalmologic drugs.

Successful Phase 1 applicants for Retinal 3D:

  • Professor Michael Cheetham, University College London.
  • Professor Majlinda Lako, Newcastle University.
  • Professor Stefan Liebau, University of Tübingen, Germany.


Phase 1 proof-of-concept stage winners have the opportunity to apply for Phase 2 where a single contract of up to £1 million will be awarded to one research team to deliver the full Challenge.

Further information about CRACK IT Challenges competition process can be found at


*The CRACK IT Two Phase Challenges competition is run using the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) process which is supported by Innovate UK.

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