A new ‘Dragon’s Den’-style funding scheme launched by the UK’s NC3Rs is offering public- and private-sector researchers grants totalling £4.25 million from industrial sponsors to find solutions that will contribute to the replacement, refinement and reduction of animal research in the life sciences.

The National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) has worked with pharmaceutical and other sponsors including AstraZeneca, Roche and Eli Lilly to come up with six initial CRACK IT challenges, spanning research areas such as developing in vitro human-cell based models, novel non-invasive measurement techniques and whole-system in vitro testing.

The CRACK IT scheme also includes a web-based research engine for problem-solving and idea-sharing between small companies, academic researchers and industry. A CRACK IT website at www.crackit.org.uk went live on 20 September.

Panel meeting

The CRACK IT Challenges competition is open to any organisations from the public or private sectors. Proposers of shortlisted projects will be invited to present their ideas at a ‘Dragons’ Den’ panel meeting and the successful bids will be announced early in 2012.

Each contract will be worth between £500,000 and £1 million, while the sponsoring company/companies will provide in-kind support. One example of a Challenge, set by AstraZeneca, involves developing a way of measuring activity and temperature in laboratory rodents housed in a group that does not involve surgery.

As well as improving animal welfare, this would enable the additional measurements to be incorporated into other studies already carried out as part of drug development, reducing the number of animals used, the NC3Rs pointed out.

A full description of each CRACK IT Challenge can be found at http://www.nc3rs.org.uk/page.asp?id=1520. The sponsoring companies in the initial phase are AstraZeneca, Eli Lilly. Huntingdon Life Sciences, Janssen, Roche, Syngenta, UCB and Unilever.