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CII in CRACK IT challenges triumph

Posted on 23 September 2014

A team led by the Centre for Immunology and Infection (CII) at York is one of five winners who will share a total of £4.9 million in the UK's National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs), the CRACK IT Challenges programme.

York scientists along with colleagues from the University of Glasgow, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and two SMEs have won a £1 million award to create a computer-based "virtual laboratory" to aid the search for new treatments for leishmaniasis, a worldwide parasitic disease associated with poverty. Caused by Leishmania parasites, leishmaniasis is a major public health problem in more than 90 countries worldwide. There are high fatality rates among children and young people and those with suppressed immune systems.  Treatment options are limited and there is currently no vaccine. 

The CRACK IT Challenges programme which is run in collaboration with the Technology Strategy Board is an open innovation platform set up in 2011 to solve scientific and business problems using approaches that have the potential to significantly reduce, replace or refine the need for animal studies (the 3Rs principle).

The York-led team entered the Virtual Infectious Disease Challenge competition, sponsored by the NC3Rs themselves, which aimed to develop a reliable computer-based model of the dynamics of infection and treatment response within an individual host. In December 2013 they won £100,000 to carry out early proof-of-concept studies and then successfully competed against others to win £1 million in the final round of the Challenge. 

The computer model that the team will now develop further is intended to help predict the efficacy of drugs, vaccines and other treatments for leishmaniasis.  Use of this technology is expected to significantly reduce the number of rodents needed in the pre-clinical stages of drug and vaccine development, given that a typical rodent efficacy study for new antibiotics or vaccines might involve up to 100 animals per candidate drug.

Professor Kaye, from the CII, who heads the team said: "Our research is focused on trying to find new ways to treat and prevent leishmaniasis, one of the most important neglected diseases of poverty.  This award from CRACK IT will allow us to develop a 'virtual laboratory', where we and others can rapidly conduct drug studies in silico and then share the results with researchers across the world. Our computational approach will not only significantly reduce the number of animals needed to develop new drugs, but also help doctors decide how to use the few drugs they have to best effect in patients."

The other four CRACK IT Challenge competition winners were teams led by Dr Selina Wray, University College London; Professor Chris Denning, University of Nottingham; Dr Ben Forbes, King’s College London and Dr Martijn Wilmer from the Radboud University Medical Centre, Netherlands.

Notes to editors:

  • CRACK IT Challenges fund collaborations between industry, academics and small and medium sized enterprise (SMEs) to solve problems related to the 3Rs, leading to new products or improved business processes. Large pharmaceutical and chemical industries act as 'Sponsors', defining relevant Challenges and providing in-kind contributions, such as access to data, compounds or equipment. For more information about The CRACK IT Challenges programme, please visit
  • For more information about the Centre for Immunology and Infection at the University of York, please visit
  • The winning team for the Virtual Infectious Disease Challenge consists of researchers from the CII in York, the University of Glasgow, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Pharmidex (, SimOmics ( and Cybula (
  • For more information about the University of Glasgow, please visit
  • For more information about the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, please visit