NIH to Resurrect Old Drugs

Academic scientists and the pharmaceutical industry will collaborate on a new program to speed up the drug development process.

By | June 20, 2013


The new translational medicine center at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) took a major step Wednesday (June 19) towards fulfilling its mission of speeding drug development: the 19-month-old National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) announced nine awardees for its ambitious program aimed at repurposing abandoned drugs.

The Discovering New Therapeutic Uses for Existing Molecules program, which will receive $12.7 million from the NIH Common Fund, will give academic scientists a crack at producing viable therapeutics from drugs cast off by the pharmaceutical industry. The drugs, which came from eight pharmaceutical companies including AstraZeneca, Eli Lilly, Janssen Research and Development, and Pfizer, have already been proven to be safe in humans, but failed due to ineffectiveness against their intended targets or for business reasons. The nine winning projects, which will address 7 of the 58 drugs contributed to the program, seek to develop treatments for a variety of ailments including Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia, and alcohol and nicotine addiction.

According to NIH, the average length of time between the discovery of a new drug candidate and its market approval is 13 years—a process that carries a more than 95 percent failure rate. “This unique collaboration between academia and industry holds the promise of trimming years from the long and expensive process of drug development,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins in a statement.

This is AstraZeneca’s second foray into drug resurrection. Last year, the pharmaceutical giant partnered with the UK Medical Research Council on a similar program to breathe new life back into old drugs. (Read more about repurposing old drug’s in The Scientist’s 2011 feature article, “Teaching an Old Drug New Tricks.”)


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