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NC3Rs: National Centre for the Replacement Refinement & Reduction of Animals in Research
Office-led project

Advancing the development and application of non-animal technologies (NATs)

At a glance

In progress
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  • Replacement


A collection of test tubes containing coloured liquid


The NC3Rs, together with Innovate UK, is developing a programme of work to accelerate the development and application of non-animal technologies for safety assessment purposes. We have demonstrated that there is a business case for increased investment in this area and non-animal technologies has been selected as an emerging sector of strategic importance to the UK. The aim is to increase the integration of non-animal technologies into drug and chemical development to improve prediction of efficacy and safety.


The development and launch of new products in human and veterinary medicine, agrochemicals, personal care products, and food additives require evaluation of the safety and efficacy of the substances used in them. With the exception of personal care products, safety and efficacy is mostly determined by testing in animals prior to human use.

Animal models are not always accurate predictors of the effects of a new substance in humans and the environment and can be a cause of attrition (the failure of a drug to progress to market). In drug development, reducing attrition by even a small amount can lead to huge financial savings and increased business growth. Non-animal technologies may provide a more human-based approach to efficacy and safety testing and therefore reduce the use of animals and increase prediction of effects in humans.

Recent advances in relevant fields in the biosciences (including induced pluripotent stem cells, tissue engineering technologies, high-throughput platforms, computational methods and modelling) offer many opportunities for these systems to transform drug and chemical development.

Establishing a world-leading non-animal technologies sector in the UK

In collaboration with Innovate UK, we have delivered a number of activities:

  • A UK roadmap for non-animal technologies, published in 2015. This supports industry, research councils, academia and government in establishing a more connected and focused non-animal technology sector in the UK. The roadmap can be downloaded here.
  • Two competitions have been run which will provide funding for feasibility studies; with BBSRC and EPSRC and collaborative research and development; with MRC, BBSRC and EPSRC.
  • A Non-Animal Technologies Special Interest Group (NAT SIG) was established to connect the research community, shape the UK non-animal technologies sector and provide access to the latest funding opportunities, events and news.

Updating the programme

The non-animal technologies programme was de-prioritised by Innovate UK in December 2016 as part of a rationalisation due to budgetary constraints. The NC3Rs has continued to support the development and application of non-animal technologies through collaborations, for example with the EPSRC and Dstl on CRACK IT Challenges, and with the Medicines Discovery Catapult on a new funding scheme, Technologies to Tools, to accelerate the translation of non-animal technologies into research tools.

In 2022 we will publish a review of the outputs from the feasibility and collaborative research and development funding competitions. 


Applying human cell and regenerative medicine technologies to safety and efficacy of new drugs

23 April 2015

The Non-Animal Technologies Special Interest Group (NAT SIG), in collaboration with the NC3Rs, the UK Regenerative Medicine Platform and Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst held a workshop in April 2015 to explore the application of cutting edge cell and tissue-based technologies in drug discovery. The workshop report has now been published and covers four priority areas that were showcased at the workshop.

These include the application of cell and tissue-based technologies in (i) biologic development, (ii) cardiovascular toxicity assessment of small molecules, (iii) current approaches for modelling kidney toxicity and (iv) immune reactions caused by cell and gene therapies.

The report highlights the importance of capitalising on the world-leading UK environment in this area and the investment in realistic, tractable problems that can be solved together by the community. The recommendations include the need to continue with responsive and flexible funding sources to nurture long-term partnerships between large pharma, academia, SMEs and contract research organisations so that the technology pipeline can be supported at all stages.

Commenting on the publication, Professor Kevin Shakesheff, Director of UK Regenerative Medicine Hub in Acellular Materials, said ‘The workshop provided a unique opportunity for collaboration between the host organisations who will continue to work together to consider the recommendations in the report. Scientists from the UK Regenerative Medicine Hubs, the Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst, SMEs and large pharmaceutical companies were able to come together and discuss the challenges they face when applying cell and tissue-based technologies in key priority areas that currently rely heavily on animal models. The report describes some tractable problems and a strategy to overcome them in the foreseeable future'.  

This project links and will input into a number of other NC3Rs programmes, for example, the 3Rs in pharmaceutical, chemical and consumer product development and open innovation (CRACK IT).

Bioprinting for more predictive efficacy and safety testing

15 December 2015

In December 2015 the NC3Rs, NAT SIG, Innovate UK and the Knowledge Transfer Network jointly hosted a workshop to advance the development and application of bioprinting approaches for improved efficacy and safety testing of drugs and other chemicals.

The workshop aimed to accelerate the uptake of novel technologies that have the potential to transform business and improve product development across a range of industries. Bringing together scientists from across sectors and disciplines the meeting:

  • Highlighted capabilities and opportunities in bioprinting in the UK;
  • Highlighted end-user needs and potential applications for bioprinting;
  • Connected potential end-users with bioprinting technology developers to encourage collaboration in model development;
  • Defined opportunities for future NATs funding.

The workshop consisted of presentations, posters and networking opportunities. Speakers from academia and industry covered current capabilities in bioprinting approaches, gaps and opportunities for development, and potential new applications in a range of industries. 


The key recommendations from the workshop are captured in an article published in the journal Biofabrication. The recommendations focus on opportunities for supporting the bioprinting community in the development of new tissue models for adoption by a range of industries for improved safety and efficacy testing.