Seventeen R&D consortia have been awarded up to £100,000 each in a bid to solve five of the pharmaceutical industry’s biggest drug discovery and development challenges, where the replacement, reduction and refinement of animals in research (the 3Rs) is the ultimate goal.
The CRACK IT Challenges programme, led by the UK’s National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs), is an open innovation platform set up in 2011 to solve scientific and business problems with a 3Rs theme.
The latest round of preclinical challenges, identified with companies such as GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer and Roche, focus on the development of new non-animal drug safety assays, a virtual infectious disease research platform and an approach to reduce animal use in the development of chronic inflammatory disease treatments.
In one challenge, the NC3Rs has partnered with the UK’s leading dementia research charity, Alzheimer’s Research UK, to reduce by many thousands the number of transgenic mice used per year in an area of Alzheimer’s disease research that centres on tau – a protein in the brain involved in causing the disease when it accumulates and tangles.
Four UK research groups will compete on the first phase of development of a physiologically relevant human stem cell-derived neuronal assay. Its use in early drug development to replace animals would help identify the efficacy of potential new compounds targeting the tau protein, and show any unexpected pharmacological effects.
Dr Eric Karran, Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“We are delighted to be supporting this CRACK IT Challenge, and look forward to seeing the early results from our Phase 1 finalists in a few months’ time. The tau protein is known to be involved in several neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease and frontotemporal dementia. We hope that compounds to target this protein could hold potential to treat these diseases, but in order to develop such a compound it’s crucial to have robust test systems with which to measure the effects of potential drugs accurately. The task these researchers are taking on is not an easy one, but this work could have important implications for the development of much-needed new treatments for these diseases.”
CRACK IT’s staggered funding approach enables applicants to look at higher-risk, more innovative technologies. Phase 1 finalists will have six months to develop the most successful proof-of-concepts for each of the five preclinical challenges, with the most successful group winning a three-year contract per challenge of up to £1m for further development and validation. The approach is intended to improve the chances of viable products emerging onto the market from the programme.
The competition was run through the UK’s innovation agency, the Technology Strategy Board, as part of the Small Business Research Initiative - with a total budget of £7 million. This includes £2 million from the government-backed Technology Strategy Board - a doubling of its contribution compared with the previous year.
Stephen Browning, Head of SBRI & SMART, Technology Strategy Board, said:
“It’s great to see the NC3Rs expanding the use of SBRI as part of the CRACK IT programme to enable SME’s and start-ups coming from universities to develop new and innovative technology solutions to reduce the need for animals in research and testing.”
Dr Vicky Robinson, Chief Executive, NC3Rs, said:
“In many cases drug-induced toxicity results in a significant number of new drugs failing before they reach the market place; often this is not identified until animal studies have taken place. By developing more predictive technologies and approaches for use in the earliest stages of drug development, industry scientists will be better equipped to identify whether a new drug is suitable for later-stage testing in animal studies and humans. This is not only more cost-effective, but has the potential to significantly reduce the number of animals needed overall.”