Study Discovers New Beneficial Uses For Older Meds

Dozens of older tried and true medications can be repurposed to use for other diseases.

Feb 17, 2020

For years doctors have said, “take two aspirin and call me in the morning.” Aspirin is the old standby to bring down a fever and relieve pain, but did you know that it can also lower your risk of having a heart attack or stroke? Or that Minoxidil from Pfizer that was originally used to treat high blood pressure had the unexpected benefit of preventing male baldness. 

Now, the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard is researching older drugs used for diabetes, inflammation, and even treating arthritis in dogs to see if they can be repurposed .

Finding new uses for older already proven drugs is a lot like recycling according to Findacure. Due to the high cost of researching, testing, and developing new drugs for effectiveness and safety to use on people, taking another look at existing drugs is a very good alternative.

This UK nonprofit sees the potential for treating some of the 7,000 rare diseases that currently have no treatments with repurposed drugs. With so many older drugs that are no longer covered by patents, this is a very viable solution.

Another use for repurposed drugs is in cancer research. Researchers at the Broad Institute and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute have found close to 50 already developed drug compounds that have anti-cancer properties that were previously unknown.

“We thought we’d be lucky if we found even a single compound with anti-cancer properties, but we were surprised to find so many,” Todd Golub, chief scientific officer and director of the Cancer Program at the Broad, Charles A. Dana Investigator in Human Cancer Genetics at Dana-Farber, and professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School said in a press release from the institute.

The study that was published in the January20, 2020  issue of Nature Cancer is the largest to date to use the institute's Drug Repurposing Hub; a collection of more than 6,000 existing drugs that have FDA approval or were proven safe in clinical trials and the first to use the hub to look for anti-Cancer properties.

"We created the repurposing hub to enable researchers to make these kinds of serendipitous discoveries in a more deliberate way,” said the study's first author Steven Corsello, an oncologist at Dana-Farber, a member of the Golub lab, and founder of the Drug Repurposing Hub.

The researchers tested all the compounds in the hub on 578 human cancer lines by using a DNA barcode that allowed them to conduct the experiment quickly. That's how they found the near 50 drug compounds that killed cancer cells without damaging other nearby cells.

“Most existing cancer drugs work by blocking proteins, but we’re finding that compounds can act through other mechanisms,” said Corsello. Most of the drugs that killed cancer cells did so by interrupting a previously unknown molecular target, like the way the anti-inflammatory drug tepoxalin – used to treat osteoarthritis in dogs – kills cells that overexpress the MDR1 protein.

“The genomic features gave us some initial hypotheses about how the drugs could be acting, which we can then take back to study in the lab,” said Corsello. “Our understanding of how these drugs kill cancer cells gives us a starting point for developing new therapies.”

The researchers plan to study the repurposing library on even more cancer lines and have shared their data openly with the greater scientific community so that others can use the results to look for more cures.

With all the current cancer research, the cure may be hidden disguised as a high blood pressure or cholesterol treatment or even in use on man's best friend. It may very well be possible to teach old drugs new tricks and the results could save millions of lives.

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BONNIE RIVA RAS, EDITOR & WRITER
Bonnie Riva Ras has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.