PharmaTimes Magazine, November/December 2015

George Underwood

The use of approved, well-known medicines to treat patients with entirely different conditions is a tried-and-tested formula for pharma companies, even when the discoveries are largely serendipitous. Using prostate-shrinking finasteride in hair regrowth, beta-blocker propranolol in infants with abnormal blood vessels and cancer-beating bevacizumab in age-related macular degeneration were all strokes of luck that proved highly effective.


Repurposing drugs is "the fast, safe and inexpensive way to get to a solution to a disease," says Dr. Bruce Bloom, president and chief science officer of Cures Within Reach (CWR) a US-based charity that helps coordinate research in this field.

"You only need to spend 10 cents for every dollar spent on de novo research to get the same impact," he says, adding that there are thousands of safe, effective and inexpensive drugs that could be repurposed as "solutions to unsolved diseases."

Repurposing has a particulary strong role to play in rare diseases with few treatment options, says Bloom. He points to the use of organ transplant rejection medicine sirolimus to treat the rare paediatric disease autoimmune lymphoproliferative syndrome (ALPS), where the body cannot properly regulate white blood cell numbers.

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