The CRACK IT open-innovation platform has awarded £993,000 to 11 challenge finalists who have been given just six months to develop the most successful proof-of-concepts for five business and technology challenges in preclinical research.
The platform primarily contributes to funding replacement, reduction and refinement (3Rs) in the use of animals in research and testing and is the first to utilise a two-phase approach specifically for this purpose, which combines industry sponsors with research council funding.
A Phase 1 proof-of-concept stage has been introduced to the platform to enable the exploration of more high-risk, innovative technologies and improve the chances of a viable product at the end of the project.
A flagship initiative of the UK's National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs), CRACK IT aims to develop new technologies to benefit the 3Rs from challenges put forward by industry and academic sponsors. A mixing pot of industry, academic institutions and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), CRACK IT combines funding with in-kind support from the sponsors - such as equipment and data.
2012 CRACK IT Challenges are:
• The development of a cell-based/invertebrate approach to reproductive and toxicity screening to reduce and replace current mammalian methods.
• Deploying a system to supply and use human, rather than animal, dorsal root ganglia for testing potential analgesic drugs.
• 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.
• To improve rodent welfare, building a non-invasive system for monitoring mice in their home cage environment during behavioural studies.
The first CRACK IT 'mini challenge' funds 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 in six months.
The new two-phased approach has seen a total of 21 entrants showcasing their solutions to sponsors for up to £100,000 Phase 1 funding each for proof-of-concept development. Finalists will later pitch these proof-of-concepts in a 'Dragon's Den' style interview in July 2013, after which the successful challenge winners will be chosen to go through to Phase 2. Phase 2 winners receive up to £1 million further funding and 3 years to complete product development. Unsuccessful finalists may be given the option to combine or share data with challenge winners.
Making the announcement ahead of the NC3R's Annual Science Review meeting in London, Dr Vicky Robinson, Chief Executive, NC3Rs, said:
"CRACK IT supports SMEs and universities to develop their own marketable technology solutions. It is a leading example to the international scientific community of how the UK is using the latest approaches to fund alternatives to animal models and developing novel solutions to improve welfare where they continue to be used. Evolving the competition with a Phase 1 proof-of-concept approach ensures that more applicants get the chance to develop their ideas while reducing risk to the NC3Rs."
Additional funding to the NC3Rs from the Technology Strategy Board's Small Business Research Initiative and the Medical Research Council has made the Phase 1 proof-of-concept stage possible. Collaborating with the TSB is allowing the Centre to award contracts to universities, spin-off companies and SMEs. The new investment builds on the £3.5 million already funded under the CRACK IT scheme.