by Sherry Ward, AltTox Contributing Editor
The National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) is "the main sponsor of 3Rs research in the UK." The NC3Rs launched a new research funding program on September 20, 2011 called CRACK IT Challenges.
The CRACK IT website provides an open innovation platform where industry (and other researchers) can find collaborative partners and solutions for technological and methodological challenges "which if solved will lead to improvements in animal welfare or reduced reliance on animal research."
The CRACK IT Challenges program is based on the UK's Technology Strategy Board scheme for funding business-led R&D where research partnerships with other organizations are developed for the purpose of driving innovation in targeted areas. The area of focus for the CRACK IT Challenges is "harnessing the knowledge base and technologies in which the UK has significant investment and expertise [to] reduce reliance on animal use, improve animal welfare, and deliver advanced tools and technologies to benefit the bioscience sector." Both the NC3Rs and the Technology Strategy Board are funded by the UK government.
The new CRACK IT Program provides three types of collaborative opportunities:
POSE a Challenge is where a company or researcher proposes a new idea or problem that could lead to a solution that benefits 3Rs when solved. New partners, resources, ideas, approaches, and/or research capabilities might be sought. NC3Rs will work with the proposers to develop their idea/problem into a CRACK IT Challenge, and the proposer will provide funding and/or other resources to the selected solution provider.
CRACK a Challenge is the CRACK IT Challenges program (also described below). Researchers submit proposals for research, ideas, and/or technologies intended to "solve" one of the 3Rs challenges devised by the NC3Rs and industry sponsors. Successful applicants are awarded a contract by NC3Rs to carry out the research with the industry partner making in-kind contributions.
Other types of challenges without financial support will also be presented on the CRACK IT website. Solutions will be submitted online and the proposer will select solution providers they wish to engage to implement a proposed solution.
SHARE a Solution is the "call for orphan solutions" opportunity (also described below). New ideas, technologies, or methods are submitted by researchers and highlighted on the CRACK IT website. NC3Rs will facilitate collaborative relationships between companies interested in a proposed solution and the solution provider.
Solve a Problem: CRACK IT Challenges
NC3Rs worked collaboratively with pharmaceutical, chemical, and consumer product companies to define the following six CRACK IT Challenges:
- A predictive in vitro screen for nephrotoxicity: from mice to man and back again
- Wireless recording of the electrophysiology of cognition in psychiatric disease models
- Rodent Big Brother: automated recording of rodent activity and temperature in the home cage
- Improving the predictive capacity of in vitro cytokine release assays to reduce animal use and drug attrition
- Improved in vitro to in vivo extrapolation in chemical safety risk assessment of human systemic toxicity
- BADIPS: Generating human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) to study bipolar affective disorder
NC3Rs is providing £4.25 million for the first CRACK IT Challenges research competition with industrial sponsors proving help and support in kind, and applications were due on November 2, 2011. Proposed solutions to the Challenges were accepted from all types of EU-based organizations (there is a geographic limitation). The Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) and Guidance for Participants provided on the program website have additional information needed by applicants. A great feature of the CRACK IT Challenges program is the short timeframe between proposal submission and funding of awards, which for the November 2 deadline will be announced on January 25, 2012.
Dr. Tim Francis, the NC3Rs CRACK IT Programme Manager, said he is pleased with the interest shown by industry and academia in CRACK IT and hopes that this will lead to new cross-sector initiatives which make a real difference in animal use and welfare.
Submit a Solution: Call for Orphan Solutions
The "Call for Orphan Solutions" is another type of collaborative opportunity available on CRACK IT where researchers can "showcase their ideas, technologies, and products [on the website] to the wider scientific community enabling them to find new partners to adopt or validate their research." This CRACK IT opportunity provides industry with a place to look for solutions that address certain problems, while also reducing animal use. Researchers must register to submit their proposed solution, and NC3Rs will then work with them to showcase the opportunity on the CRACK IT website. Submitted solutions do not need to be related to the CRACK IT Challenges, and there are no deadlines associated with this program.
The first "solution" is already showcased on CRACK IT, and is titled Next generation invertebrate models for neurodegeneration.
NC3Rs is planning more rounds of CRACK IT Challenges in future years. In addition to these NC3Rs-funded challenges, companies can pose additional challenges throughout the year -- there is no closing date for these - or for researchers to post orphan solutions.
Researchers are urged to sign up for updates on the program via the CRACK IT website, www.crackit.org.uk.
A CRACK IT LinkedIn group has been formed. This group is being used to discuss the Challenges and as a method to identify potential partners for developing research proposals for the CRACK IT Challenges.