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How Drug Repurposing Is Revitalizing the Pharma Industry

By: , Posted on: October 17, 2018

The average expense of bringing a new drug to market has increased by more than 200 percent since the 1990s, with development costs regularly running into the billions. As pharma revenues continue to sink below the costs of creating commercially viable drugs, a growing number of developers are exploring a different approach: seeking out additional monetizable uses for drugs to which they already own intellectual property rights.

A lower-risk approach

Drug repurposing circumvents one of the most costly issues in pharma development — the fact that any investment in a potential drug is an educated gamble, generally carrying much more risk than reward; for instance, though it varies by therapeutic area, the overall success rate of a drug to go to market is a mere 12 percent. Every year, pharma developers invest more than $4 billion in drug candidates that may prove nonviable at any point in the engineering or clinical trial stage.

In contrast, an investment in repurposing a drug — or bringing a previously failed drug back to life — carries far less risk. If the drug is merely repurposed,  because the drug has already been approved as safe and effective for some use; while even if it previously failed to pass clinical trials, its efficacy in in vitro tests may already have been proven. Either way, the result may be , resulting in years and millions of dollars in savings.

Perhaps the best-known example of successful drug repurposing is that of sildenafil. Originally developed as an angina medication, it gained far greater success as an erectile dysfunction treatment called Viagra. In a similar way, thalidomide was originally developed to treat morning sickness but gained a second life as a treatment for certain types of inflammation.

Navigating new uses

While the discovery of new uses for sildenafil and thalidomide happened largely by accident, the process of repurposing an existing drug is typically far more systematic. In fact, an increasingly common practice is for pharma developers to perform multiple studies of a drug candidate’s in vivo and in vitro effects in parallel, in order to pinpoint potential therapeutic uses as early as possible in the development stage.

With this clinical data in hand, developers can search for clinical indications that correlate with the drug’s pharmacokinetic activity. By mapping their own in-house data onto the findings of third-party clinical studies, developers can significantly narrow down the number of significant investigation paths, enabling them to channel resources into the creation of additional value propositions for drugs they’ve already developed.

Drug repurposing already has a long and successful history, and if developers can continue to find new uses for existing drugs, the pharma industry may be able to pull out of its current sunk-cost slump. The key lies in tapping into existing databases of clinical research in order to discover correlations likely to lead to new uses for drugs that have already proven their worth.

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Pharmaceutical Sciences

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