King’s is one of 17 R&D consortia to be awarded up to £100,000 each in a bid to solve five of the pharmaceutical industry’s biggest drug discovery and development challenges, where the replacement, reduction and refinement of animals in research (the 3Rs) is the ultimate goal.
The CRACK IT Challenges programme, led by the UK’s National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs), is an open innovation platform set up 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-animal drug safety assays, a virtual infectious disease research platform and an approach to reduce animal use in the development of chronic inflammatory disease treatments.
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.
Dr Ben Forbes, Reader in Pharmaceutics at King’s, will lead a team looking at ways to expediate the development of inhaled medicines for the treatment of chronic inflammatory diseases of the airways, such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which remain areas of considerable unmet medical need. Few new drugs have made it to the clinic during the past 50 years, with many that perform well in preclinical animal studies failing in humans due to lack of safety and/or efficacy. This Challenge aims to enable the longitudinal and non-invasive assessment of inflammation associated with drug toxicity in the same animal, rather than using multiple animals, to reduce animal use by up to 90% at certain stages of drug discovery and development. Data obtained would therefore be more reliable and less variable and would lead to earlier go/no-go decisions on a drug candidate that may otherwise fail later in development after further animal tests had taken place. This project is sponsored by Huntingdon Life Sciences, Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline.
The competition was run through the UK’s innovation agency, the Technology Strategy Board, as part of the Small Business Research Initiative - with a total budget of £7 million. This includes £2 million from the government-backed Technology Strategy Board - a doubling of its contribution compared with the previous year.
Dr Vicky Robinson, Chief Executive at 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.’