According to a story from Chemical & Engineering News, many drug research and development startups are beginning to turn to gene expression data in order to find new uses for drugs that have already been approved. This is an unconventional approach to development, as the more common “one drug, one target” mantra has been the standard for decades.
Why Repurposing Drugs Makes Sense
Regardless, it makes a lot of sense to start finding ways to repurpose already approved drugs for treating other diseases. After all, it is perfectly possible that old drugs could be a viable treatment for a variety of illnesses as opposed to just the single disease they may be indicated for. This also helps circumvent the often arduous and lengthy development process of a brand new drug. Most therapies take an average of nearly a decade and billions of dollars to get completely approved for public use, and only about 12 percent of drugs that begin development actually make it the entire way to getting approved.
Why Gene Expression?
Clearly, the old fashioned approach, while sensible for getting all-new therapies off the ground, is not exactly efficient, and considering the urgent need for new treatments for many rare diseases, it makes sense to start looking at old medications and finding new ways to use them. To facilitate this process, many drug developers have been classifying disease in a new way: by gene expression. In this way, drug companies hope to find a therapy that effectively reverses the manner in which a disease alters gene expression and restores to the gene expression that is found in a healthy person.
This is not necessarily a super fast process, as there is a ton of gene expression data for different diseases to comb through, and the same can also be said about the countless number of different drugs out there. Still, it is faster than creating a brand new medication.
Antidepressants For Cancer
An example of this process is the antidepressant drug imipramine. This drug was found to reverse the gene expression found in a number of cancers, such as small cell lung cancer and neuroblastoma. This discovery resulted in clinical trials of a modified version of the drug called desipramine against these cancers. Unfortunately, the trial had to be halted because of severe side effects, but the discovery was far from a dead end. It could be possible, for example, to modify desipramine further so that it has less severe side effects, and the discovery was still a faster process than trying to find a brand new drug to treat these cancers.