The UK’s National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) has awarded grants totalling £993,000 to 11 finalists in Phase 1 of the CRACK IT challenges set for 2012 under the open-innovation scheme launched by the Centre in September 2011.  

The ‘Dragon’s Den’-style funding programme brings together industry, academic institutions and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in exploring new technologies that can contribute to the replacement, refinement and reduction of animal research in the life sciences.

With additional funding from the Technology Strategy Board’s (TSB) Small Business Research Initiative and the Medical Research Council, the NC3RS has now added a Phase 1 proof-of-concept stage to the CRACK-IT platform.

The new staggered platform will enable applicants to look at higher-risk, more innovative technologies and will improve the chances of a viable product emerging from the project, the NC3RS said.

The extra investment builds on the £3.5 million already funded under the CRACK IT scheme. Collaborating with the TSB allows the NC3RS to award contracts to universities, spin-off companies and SMEs, the Centre noted.

Proof of concepts

The 11 Phase 1 finalists will have six months to develop the most successful proof-of-concepts for five business and technology challenges in preclinical research.

There were four CRACK IT Challenges put forward by industry and academic sponsors for 2012, as well as the first CRACK-IT ‘mini-challenge’.

The CRACK IT Challenges were:

•    Developing a cell-based/invertebrate approach to reproductive and toxicity screening that can reduce and replace current mammalian methods.              

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

•    Developing an imaging technique to detect the distribution of large biomolecules in rodents – as well as reducing animal use, this will enable efficacy and safety studies to be finished earlier, the NC3RS pointed out.

•  Building a non-invasive system for monitoring mice in their home-cage environment during behavioural studies.

The CRACK IT ‘mini-challenge’ will fund the development of an injection aid suitable for use in rabbit studies to avoid potential eye damage associated with intravitreal injection. A marketable product is expected within six months.

July pitch

The new two-phase approach has seen a total of 21 entrants showcase their solutions to sponsors in a bid for Phase 1 funding of up to £100,000 each for proof-of-concept development.

The finalists will later pitch proof-of-concepts through a ‘Dragon's Den’-style interview in July 2013. Phase 2 winners will receive up to £1 million in additional funding and three more years to complete product development.

Unsuccessful finalists may be given the option to combine or share data with challenge winners, the NC3RS said.