Pioneering better science through research funding

This week the NC3Rs publishes its 2013 Research Review, analysing the research funding portfolio from 2004 onwards and featuring case-studies from 12 award holders who are developing technologies and approaches that deliver genuine progress in the 3Rs. Dr Vicky Robinson, Chief Executive of the NC3Rs, introduces the review and describes how research funding has been key to position the UK at the forefront of 3Rs research.

The 12 researchers from the NC3Rs research portfolio featured in the 2013 review.

The 12 researchers from the NC3Rs research portfolio featured in the 2013 review.

It’s almost ten years since the NC3Rs was established to accelerate the development and application of science and technology to replace, reduce and refine the use of animals for scientific purposes (the 3Rs). Since then we’ve positioned the UK at the forefront of 3Rs efforts globally and funding cutting-edge research and world class scientists has been key to this.

The aims of our funding strategy are to:

  • Drive scientific advances by supporting project, pilot study and strategic awards;
  • Build capacity for training and development through PhD studentships and the David Sainsbury Fellowship scheme that were launched in 2009 and 2012 respectively;
  • Support growth and commercialisation through the challenge-led competition CRACK IT Challenges that was introduced in 2011;
  • Provide for research infrastructure, networking and equipment through the Infrastructure for Impact scheme that was launched this year.

These schemes have allowed the NC3Rs to build up a strong portfolio, in which 3Rs research is embedded in the mainstream scientific community. By focusing on high quality, funding from the NC3Rs has become increasingly valued and sought after. We’ve demonstrated a track record for high impact science and as a result been able to attract additional core resource, enabling us make more awards and to expand the number of funding schemes available.

This year’s Research Review showcases 12 case studies from the NC3Rs research portfolio, focusing primarily on project grants which have been the mainstay of our funding strategy. We’ve selected examples to illustrate the breadth of the science we support and the benefits delivered.

High impact projects range from medical discoveries in epilepsy and cancer, changes to international regulations for testing endocrine disrupting chemicals, through to addressing some of the major challenges faced by the pharmaceutical industry. We also highlight some of the multi-disciplinary approaches and innovative technologies that have developed through NC3Rs funding, including unique bioengineering solutions for basic research in neurodegeneration and drug discovery.

At the heart of our mission is the commitment to minimise the use of animals and improve animal welfare. In the review, we illustrate how NC3Rs-funded research is achieving this in practice with examples that apply to rodents, fish and non-human primates. We also provide an estimate of the potential 3Rs impact that will be delivered once the research is fully adopted across the scientific community in the UK and internationally. In some cases NC3Rs-research, such as that to refine euthanasia or improve pain assessments, will benefit millions of animals.

We begin the review with an analysis of the NC3Rs research portfolio including the amount committed by funding scheme and the breakdown of awards by scientific discipline. Using the 3Rs evaluation framework that we published in 2012, a summary of the impact of NC3Rs research is provided. This includes our first analysis of the citation of peer-reviewed publications arising from NC3Rs research.

Delivering genuine and sustained progress in the 3Rs is primarily dependent upon scientific discovery and technological innovation. Research funding is essential.

Adapted from the Foreword of the NC3Rs 2013 Research Review.

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