Virtual Repurposing Can Give New Life to Old Drugs

According to a publication from Stat, scientists have high hopes about “virtual repurposing” cutting drug production costs. It could also potentially mean more treatments on the market faster.

Virtual Repurposing

Virtual repurposing is kind of like clinically-tested, peer-reviewed pharmaceutical thrift shopping.

Granted, that doesn’t make it sound very fun – but it is! Virtual repurposing is based on the pretty sound logic that a drug good at treating one thing might also be good at treating other things.

That’s a good thing, as it turns out – because pharmaceutical formulation is the most insanely expensive game of whack-a-mole you never played. It can begin with the discovery of a single molecule or gene, which proceeds to animal testing, and then human testing, and then licensing, and then additional testing, etc.

On average, it costs over $2.6 billion (yes with a “B”) to bring just a single drug to market from formula. That price tag discourages a lot of innovation, and slows down the process of drug discovery tremendously. One virtual repurposing program took just two years and $1 million to yield a new treatment from an existing medication.

Shared Genetic Pathways

Trying to randomly guess what conditions a medication might secretly cure sounds like an amazing way to hurt someone. Obviously, scientists conduct their studies with a more measured approach.

One such approach, employed by Dr. Inga Peter and a team of researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, was to search for so-called “shared genetic pathways.” When examining huge collections of data, connections can be drawn between conditions that appear to be unrelated to the naked eye.

With this method, Dr. Peter and her team came to find what they believe is a possible link between Parkinson’s disease and inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) like ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease.

Exploring what they believed to be a potential link further, Dr. Peter found that IBD patients taking a certain kind of anti-inflammatory called a TNF (tumor necrosis factor, since you asked) inhibitor had a 78% reduced likelihood of developing Parkinson’s compared to other people with IBD.

Without a single trial, virtual repurposing had credibly suggested a pharmaceutical link between two highly distinct conditions – a process that could have cost billions if done through conventional means. As the old saying goes, work smarter, not harder.

One day, virtual repurposing may form part of the backbone of our understanding of pharmaceuticals and the conditions we use them to treat.

How might keeping R&D costs down be passed on to the average consumer? Is virtual repurposing worth studying further? Share your thoughts with Patient Worthy!

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