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International 3Rs prize goes to human-based computer models which could replace animal testing


The National Centre for the 3Rs (NC3Rs) – an organisation dedicated to replacing, refining and reducing the use of animals in research and testing – has awarded its top prize for a research paper by a team from the Department of Computer of Science.

The International 3Rs prize was awarded for research which developed original software which predicts the clinical risk of drug-induced side effects for the heart with higher accuracy than animal experiments.

The software’s computer (in silico) models use human data, rather than animal data: this improves how test results translate to humans and reduces the need for animal experimentation. Rather than a one-model-fits-all, this software uses a population-based approach, which is an important step towards personalised medicine.

Several companies in the pharmaceutical industry are already using the software (called Virtual Assay) with promising results, and collaboration with industry is ongoing.

The 3Rs prize, sponsored by GSK, was presented for the research paper by Dr Elisa Passini and colleagues from the University of Oxford and Janssen Pharmaceutica at a ceremony on 12 March. The prize consists of an £28,000 grant and a £2,000 personal award.

The same paper (Human in Silico Drug Trials Demonstrate Higher Accuracy than Animal Models in Predicting Clinical Pro-Arrhythmic Cardiotoxicity) also won the Safety Pharmacology Society Technological Innovation Award 2017. The research was funded by the Wellcome Trust, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, CompBioMed project (EU), TransQST Project (IMI) and the NC3Rs. The research was conducted in Professor Blanca Rodriguez and Dr Alfonso Bueno-Orovio’s group at Oxford. Blanca and Alfonso are recipients of an NC3Rs Infrastructure for Impact grant to promote the profile of in silico human models for the 3Rs.

Dr Vicky Robinson, NC3Rs Chief Executive said: ‘This is more great work from the Oxford team which really highlights the massive potential for computer simulations to replace animal use as well as provide meaningful human-relevant data that helps to ensure the safety of new drugs. The in silico drug trial is the validation that the pharmaceutical industry has been waiting for and I am delighted that the Panel selected this stellar paper for our annual 3Rs prize.’

The winning research builds on work by the same team, awarded the 3Rs Prize in 2014. Dr Oliver Britton and colleagues then established a computer model that incorporated variations in ‘normal’ heart electrophysiological properties based on existing data from rabbit Purkinje fibres (cardiac cells). Oliver has subsequently been awarded an NC3Rs project grant to extend the same principles to pain research.

Virtual Assay is now available for download in the Oxford University Innovation Store:

The project website is at:

The prize-winning research paper:

The NC3Rs website:

Photograph below: From left to right: Alfonso Bueno-Orovio, Blanca Rodriguez, Elisa Passini and Patricia Benito, all members of the Computational Cardiovascular Science team testing the Virtual Assay software for in silico drug trials.