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Rising to the latest technology challenges in animal research

Posted on 30 January 2014

The University of York is among a selection of universities and small-to-medium-sized enterprises across Europe that have been awarded up to £100,000 each to help to solve five of the pharmaceutical industry’s biggest drug discovery and development challenges. The ultimate goal is the replacement, reduction and refinement of animals in research (the 3Rs).

Led by the UK’s National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs), the £1.5 million CRACK IT Challenges programme 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-animaldrug safety assays, a virtual infectious disease research platform and an approach to reduce animal use in the development of chronic inflammatory disease treatments.

With colleagues at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the University of Glasgow and at Pharmidex, scientists at York will focus on developing a virtual platform to model infection and the host response in an individual animal to accelerate the development of treatments to infectious disease. Control of infectious diseases, including HIV, malaria and the so-called “neglected” diseases (e.g. leishmaniasis), remains a key priority in human and veterinary medicine and vaccine and drug development often requires the use of large numbers of animals. The work at York will involve the Hull York Medical School and the departments of Biology and Electronics.

Project leader Professor Paul Kaye, Director of the Centre for Immunology and Infection at York, said: “Use of large datasets and computational tools to study disease biology and predict efficacy would help to reduce the number of animals used.”

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.

Funding for 2014 CRACK IT Challenges come from the Technology Strategy Board’s Small Business Research Initiative.

Dr Vicky Robinson, Chief Executive of the 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.”

Notes to editors:

  • About the NC3Rs:
  • The National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) leads discovery and application of new technologies and approaches to minimise the use of animals and improve animal welfare (the 3Rs). It funds research, supports training and development, and stimulates changes in regulations and practice. Primarily funded by Government, the NC3Rs is also supported by the charitable and private sectors. It works with scientists in universities and industry in the UK and internationally.
  • Further information can be found at: | @nc3rs |   
  • For more information about the Centre for Immunology and Infection at York, please visit: