Drug repurposing, also known as drug repositioning, is the process of reworking a drug for use in treating a disease different from the one it was originally intended to address. It is the result of a pharmacological shift in emphasis from a one-target approach to a multi-target use. The advantage of this process is that it uses drugs previously approved for use. The drugs have already been tested on humans. Drug developers know their formulation, dose, and any adverse effects.
By repurposing a drug, developers can cut the cost and time needed to bring the medication to the market. Developing new drugs can be expensive and time-consuming, sometimes costing over a billion dollars and taking many years to complete. Moreover, there is a very high failure rate for new drugs during clinical trials. Repurposing drugs enables companies to bypass these problems. Pharmacists who provide clinical care, as well as those who work in research at pharmaceutical companies, are involved in this process. But all pharmacists should be aware of what drug repurposing is and how it works because of the tremendous potential this process has for patient care.
Why It Works
Such a process is possible because many common molecular pathways cause various diseases, enabling drugs to hit more than one target. These common pathways also result in one focus area of a drug impacting other areas. Researchers have found that drugs usually impact six to 13 areas.
Moreover, the safety of a repurposed drug has already been established, obviating the need for the full array of clinical trials. One well-known example of a repurposed drug is thalidomide. It was originally developed as a sedative and later approved for treating leprosy. It was later repositioned for use in treating multiple myeloma.
Repositioning drugs could enable producers to bring more drugs to market and improve healthcare for patients. About one-third of new drugs were repurposed in 2017.
Treating Rare Diseases
Repurposing could be especially helpful in treating rare diseases. There are more than 6,000 rare diseases, but the FDA has approved medications to treat only 325 of them. Because repositioning uses drugs that have already been approved for safety and effectiveness, it can significantly reduce the time it takes to find new treatments for these kinds of conditions.
The most common method currently used for repurposing medications is looking for shared traits between drugs and diseases. Researchers look at drug targets, chemical structure, mechanism of action, and genomics to identify repurposing possibilities.
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