CRACKIT_SBRI logo_plus NC3Rs_plus CRACKITEarlier this month, the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) open innovation platform, CRACK IT, awarded £4.9 million in its annual challenge-led competition, run in collaboration with Innovate UK. Here, Dr Cathy Vickers, Programme Manager – CRACK IT at the NC3Rs, describes the competition and one of the recent winners – a cross-sector Alzheimer’s disease research collaboration to improve tau testing and accelerate the 3Rs.

The NC3Rs CRACK IT Challenges competition has brought together a UK research charity, two large pharmaceutical companies, leading academics from two UK universities and two small biotechnology companies to begin a three-year collaboration developing patient derived stem cell assays to better investigate the role of the protein tau in Alzheimer’s disease.

Tau protein

Tau protein

The CRACK IT UnTangle Challenge – created by the NC3Rs and Alzheimer’s Research UK in collaboration with Lilly and Janssen (the Sponsors who will give in-kind support) – is to develop a physiologically relevant human stem cell-derived neuronal assay that predicts the efficacy and unexpected pharmacological side effects of new drugs targeting tau in Alzheimer’s disease.

CRACK IT is a unique programme from the NC3Rs, run in collaboration with the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) from Innovate UK. It brings together end users, technology developers and scientific experts to accelerate the development and uptake of new technologies that are emerging from the science base and which reduce animal use and/or improves animal welfare in research. This approach ensures that the technology developed is fit for purpose for its intended market, delivers better quality science and accelerates the 3Rs.

UnTangle addresses the major problem of the lack of predictivity of non-clinical animal models in the development of treatments for neurodegenerative diseases by capitalising on recent advances in stem cell technologies. Using induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells it is possible to generate neurons that are human in origin. By using cells derived from healthy populations as well as diseased populations, the aim is to develop an assay that will minimise the risk of failure of a compound once it gets into the clinic and reduce reliance on animal models. This is one part of a significant global effort to increase the use of iPS cells to develop treatments for human disease, but importantly, it focuses on developing the correct platform on which to study these cells to ensure they are used to their maximum effect.

Dr Selina Wray

Dr Selina Wray

Four consortia were selected from the first round of applicants to receive £100k to deliver six-month Phase 1 proof-of-concept studies to convince the Sponsors and an independent panel of experts that they could meet the Challenge. On the basis of these initial studies, one consortium has now been awarded the Phase 2 contract of up to £1 million, funded by the NC3Rs, Innovate UK and Alzheimer’s Research UK, for up to three years to deliver the full Challenge. The successful team is led by Dr Selina Wray from University College London and brings together expertise from Roslin Cells, R Biomedical and Strathclyde University. Following the award in July 2014, the Sponsors, winners and the NC3Rs will actively collaborate over the next three years to develop a product that meets the needs of the Challenge brief and results in a new platform that is made widely available across all sectors; delivering better science in the field of Alzheimer’s Research and reducing the reliance on animal models.