Into the Dragons' Den - the Challenges have been set

The 2013 CRACK IT Challenges have been announced, with up to £1m funding available for each.

The latest CRACK IT Challenges have been announced and are designed to solve animal research problems across industry and academia. Dan Richards, NC3Rs, outlines each of the new Challenges.

Nephrotoxicity accounts for 19% of drug failures in Phase III clinical trials

Many of the global scientific, business and regulatory challenges facing today’s bioscience sector involve animal use.

One of the key scientific issues is that animals are not always effective at predicting the effect of a chemical or drug once used by humans. For example, within the pharmaceutical industry, drug-induced organ toxicity accounts for 30% of all drugs that fail before reaching the market. Within this, nephrotoxicity (kidney toxicity) accounts for 2% of failures in the preclinical stages but a much larger 19% of failures once in humans in Phase III. There’s a clear gap in translation between the available preclinical models (animal and non-animal) used to test for this, and their ability to accurately predict toxicity in humans as the drug candidates reach clinical development.

Where animal models are inefficient, radical solutions are required – and technology may have the answer.

Competing for a contract of up to £1m

Since 2011, the NC3Rs CRACK IT Challenges programme has been collaborating across the bioscience sector to solve very specific scientific and business problems relating to animal research. The approach is simple – to facilitate and fund the development of marketable technologies and products.

CRACK IT Challenges isn’t your typical funding programme, it’s milestone-driven and based on the well-honed paradigm of ‘open innovation’. It’s also the only programme of its kind designed exclusively for the replacement, reduction and refinement of animals in research (3Rs).

The programme works by taking animal research challenges posed from large bioscience businesses, research institutes and charities (known as the Challenge sponsors). Through the two-phase review process, including a Dragons’ Den-style pitch, contracts are awarded of up to £1m to small-to-medium-sized enterprises and academics to develop technologies to solve them. Ultimately the technology or product developed will be used by the sponsor, though the Challenge winners can make it commercially available on the open market.

Collaboration is key; sponsors make in-kind contributions to each Challenge including data, compounds and Challenge-specific advice and guidance. In its first two years the Challenges arm of the CRACK IT programme has already brought together nine SMEs, 15 academic and research institutes and nine large industry companies from across the pharmaceutical, chemical and agri-business sectors.

Each Challenge is different. The previous two rounds of CRACK IT Challenges cover a broad range of areas from non-invasive imaging to cell-based toxicity screening and automated rodent behaviour monitoring to human tissue supply. But each share two common goals – a clear business and 3Rs impact.

2013 Challenges

The latest round of CRACK IT Challenges was announced last week, and the NC3Rs is searching far and wide across the multi-disciplinary landscape for the brightest and most innovative minds to solve them:

  • To reduce the number of transgenic mice used in Alzheimer’s disease research:

UnTangle: Develop a physiologically relevant human stem cell-derived neuronal assay to predict the efficacy and unexpected pharmacological effects of new chemical entities and biologics targeting tau in Alzheimer’s disease.

  • To replace and reduce the number of animals used in cardiovascular research:

InPulse: Generate a physiologically-relevant contractility platform with cells that are phenotypically ‘mature’, possess a robust contractile apparatus, move calcium between intracellular and extracellular spaces and metabolically generate substantive amounts of energy.

  • To assess efficacy and toxicity in the same animal for respiratory diseases, reducing animal use by up to 90% for some experiments:

Inhalation Translation: Enable the longitudinal and non-invasive assessment of inflammation and foamy macrophage toxicity in the same animal through a series of dose-escalation stages.

  • For better prediction of human nephrotoxicity to significantly reduce animal use:

NephroTube: Develop a multi-compartmental, microfluidic tissue assay that models the renal tubular injury observed in nephrotoxicity. The assay should model the 3D architecture of the kidney tubules with microfluidics and chip arrays and possess the ability to reproduce the tubular response to known nephrotoxicants.

  • To significantly reduce animal use in the study of infectious diseases:

Virtual Infectious Disease Research: Develop a virtual platform that models infection and the host response to pathogen assault for basic research and enhances new target development in infectious diseases.

Later this year an array of ideas will be put to the Phase 1 Review Panels with up to four projects for each Challenge awarded £100k to develop a six month proof-of-concept. Based on their progress at the six-month milestone, applicants pitch to the Phase 2 Dragons’ Den-style Challenge Panel, with one team from each Challenge awarded up to £1m for three years to lead on the development of their proof-of-concept into a working commercial product available for use right across the sector.

The Challenges are being launched at a meeting on 5 September which will provide potential applicants with valuable insight into each Challenge and the chance to meet new partners to help put together a winning application. Register for the launch event here.

The 2013 CRACK IT Challenges are funded by the Technology Strategy Board’s SBRI Programme and Alzheimer’s Research UK.

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