Reducing the need for animals in infectious disease research

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Published on 30 January 2014

Roslin researcher wins proof-of-concept award through the NC3Rs’ CRACK IT Challenges competition

Professor Tom Freeman together with colleagues at The Roslin Institute, University of Edinburgh, Italy and Ireland has won one of a series of grants aimed at employing new ways of working that will eventually reduce the number of animals needed for research to discover and develop new drugs to fight infectious diseases.

Professor Freeman’s project aims to create a Virtual Infectious Disease Research platform to simulate the course of an infection and the body’s immune response. The work will initially focus on the computer modelling of complex interactions between an immune cell called a macrophage and its infection by the influenza virus that causes flu.

Control of infectious diseases is a key priority in human and veterinary medicine.  A study to test the efficacy of new antibiotics or vaccines can typically require around 100 animals for each drug candidate that is tested.

This project will develop new computing tools and ways of working with the aim of predicting the efficacy of drugs.  In this way the hope is that it will be possible to eliminate drug and vaccine candidates that are less likely to be successful thereby reducing the numbers of animals currently used in such tests.

The funding is part of the CRACK IT Challenges programme, led by the UK’s National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs). The funding programme is an open innovation platform that was set up in 2011 to solve scientific and business problems with a 3Rs theme.

The funding approach enables applicants to investigate more innovative technologies that are a higher risk investment.  Professor Freeman will have six months to develop his proof-of-concept and, if successful, he could secure further funding from the NC3Rs for further development and validation.

Professor Freeman said of the award, “We have been developing the tools to do this kind of work at The Roslin Institute for a number of years, such as the cell network analysis tool, Biolayout Express3D funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.  

The new NC3Rs funding provides us with an excellent opportunity to really establish how these approaches can be used in an industrial context and in a directly beneficial way.”

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.”

ENDS

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.

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