Building a community for innovation

Dr Diane Harbison, Head of Business Development at Edinburgh BioQuarter, explains how the CRACK IT Challenge programme has supported Edinburgh BioQuarter’s goal to bring scientists, clinicians, industrialists and patients together in search of innovative solutions to scientific problems.


The aim of the CRACK IT Challenges open innovation platform – to connect scientists from different backgrounds in order to solve scientific and business problems with a 3Rs theme – closely aligns with our mission at Edinburgh BioQuarter, to stimulate innovation in medical research by encouraging collaboration.

A joint venture between the University of Edinburgh, NHS Lothian and Scottish Enterprise, the BioQuarter combines the outstanding biomedical research from the University of Edinburgh and the clinical expertise of the NHS with commercial research companies to collaborate and accelerate the development of new drugs, diagnostic tools and medical devices to treat diseases. Creating new companies derived from Edinburgh’s research base in the process.

Encouraging our contacts to enter the CRACK IT Challenges has proved very beneficial. Being involved in the Challenges has enabled the BioQuarter to find new ways to do research, whilst also reducing the number of animals involved.

To date many researchers from Edinburgh BioQuarter have been successful with the Challenge and have received funding towards their work. Two of the very first CRACK IT Challenges have been tackled by participants from Edinburgh.

Set in 2011, the ‘Rodent Big Brother’ Challenge was to develop a way of measuring activity and temperature in research animals, which did not involve surgery, and allowed rodents to be housed in a group. Sponsored by AstraZeneca, the winning team has been led by Professor Douglas Armstrong from Actual Analytics – an Edinburgh SME, with colleagues from TSE Systems and Professor Judith Pratt of the University of Strathclyde. The product developed has real potential to improve animal welfare and is due to be taken to market later this year.

Professor Armstrong was again successful in 2012, with the ‘Rodent Little Brother’ Challenge. Here, the Challenge was to find innovative and creative solutions to integrate recording equipment into regular cage racking; simultaneously recording from two or more mice per cage; collecting data over long periods of time and analysing large data sets.

The ‘BADIPS’ Challenge, which began in 2011, involved generating human induced pluripotent stem cells to study bipolar affective disorder. The winning team has been led by Professor Andrew McIntosh from the University of Edinburgh. Other team members have come from the Universities of Edinburgh and Cambridge and Roslin Cells. The Challenge was to develop tests for the treatment of bipolar affective disorder using cell-based systems derived from the skin or hair of affected patients. These assays are more relevant to human disease and reduce the dependence on animal models.

Edinburgh BioQuarter and CRACK IT continue to work together to connect people in the search for answers to 3Rs problems. So far in 2014, two projects involving Edinburgh University researchers have been awarded Phase 1 funding from CRACK IT Challenges.

The ‘Virtual Infectious Disease Research’ Challenge focuses 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. Use of large datasets and computational tools to study disease biology and predict efficacy has the potential to reduce the number of animals used.

Lastly, the ‘Inhalation Translation’ 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.

And as we carry on working towards the Edinburgh BioQuarter’s vision of creating a community, where scientists, clinicians, industrialists and patients innovate together, we look forward to seeing further advances in scientific problem solving being recognised and supported through the CRACK IT programme.

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Thomas Korff2

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