The objective of this review is to report on whether, and if so, how, scientific research projects organised and managed within collaborative consortia across academia and industry are contributing to the Three Rs (i.e. reduction, replacement and refinement of the use of animals in research). A number of major technological developments have recently opened up possibilities for more direct, human-based approaches leading to a reassessment of the role and use of experimental animals in pharmacological research and biomedicine. This report reviews how projects funded by one of the research funding streams, the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI), are contributing to a better understanding of the challenges faced in using animal models. It also looks how the results from these various projects are impacting on the continued use of laboratory animals in research and development. From the progress identified, it is apparent that the approach of private–public partnership has demonstrated the value of multicentre studies, and how the spirit of collaboration and sharing of information can help address human health challenges. In so doing, this approach can reduce the dependence on animal use in areas where it has normally been viewed as necessary. The use of a collaborative platform enables the Three Rs to be addressed on multiple different levels, such that the selection of models to be tested, the protocols to be followed, and the interpretation of results generated, can all be optimised. This will, in turn, lead to an overall reduction in the use of laboratory animals.