Challenge funding of £993,000 awarded by the NC3Rs CRACK IT Program

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In the Spotlight

Challenge funding of £993,000 awarded by the NC3Rs CRACK IT Program

Published: February 16, 2013
The UK organization, the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs), announced 11 CRACK IT challenge finalists in their Feb. 13, 2013 press release.

CRACK IT is an open innovation platform designed to connect “problem-solvers” with “problems” in replacing, reducing, and refining animal use for efficacy and safety testing. This new research funding program was launched by NC3Rs on September 20, 2011, and is open to EU organizations.

The CRACK IT Program is described in greater detail in the November 2011 article Open Innovation Part I: The NC3Rs Programme CRACK IT.

NC3Rs described the two-phase CRACK IT funding scheme as follows:

“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, commercialization, and/or adoption.”

[A Dragon’s Den style interview refers to the BBC’s Dragons’ Den show where an intimidating panel of experts with piles of cash rigorously quizzes entrepreneurs about their proposals.]

The February 13, 2013 NC3Rs press release, £993,000 challenge funding awarded to develop animal research alternatives and refinements, announced the funding of 10 challenge finalists who will develop proof-of-concepts for four 2012 CRACK IT Challenges. One Mini Challenge was also awarded.

The 2012 CRACK IT Program had a total of 21 entrants showcasing their solutions to sponsors; competing for up to £100,000 Phase 1 funding each for proof-of-concept development. With only 6 months of funded research time, the Phase 1 challenge finalists will pitch their proof-of-concepts in July 2013, where Phase 2 winners will be chosen. “Phase 2 winners receive up to £1 million further funding and 3 years to complete product development.”

2012 CRACK IT Challenges and Phase 1 winners:

The development of a cell-based/invertebrate approach to reproductive and toxicity screening to reduce and replace current mammalian methods.

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

Deploying a system to supply and use human, rather than animal, dorsal root ganglia for testing potential analgesic drugs.

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

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.

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

To improve rodent welfare, building a non-invasive system for monitoring mice in their home cage environment during behavioural studies.

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 initiative’s 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
2012 CRACK IT Mini Challenge winner:

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)