NIH, Industry, and Researchers Collaborate to Find New Uses for Existing Drugs
NIH's National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) recently unveiled a collaborative program that will allow researchers to find new uses for existing drug compounds.
The initiative, Discovering New Therapeutic Uses for Existing Molecules, is the result of NCATS's initial partnership with Pfizer, AstraZeneca, and Eli Lilly, which have agreed to make dozens of their compounds available to researchers.
The collaboration will give researchers access to compounds that already have cleared several key steps in the development process, including safety testing in humans—part of the therapeutic pipeline that traditionally has been difficult for researchers to access.
Some compounds prove to be ineffective for the specific use for which they were developed, but new research may reveal that they work well for a different therapeutic use. One example is thalidomide, which was abandoned as a treatment for morning sickness when it was found to cause birth defects but was later discovered to be an effective treatment for multiple myeloma.
In recent years, researchers have identified the causes of more than 4,500 diseases. But it has proven difficult to turn this knowledge into new therapies; effective treatments exist for only about 250 of these conditions.
"Clearly, we need to speed the pace at which we are turning discoveries into better health outcomes," NIH Director Dr. Francis S. Collins said in a statement. "NIH looks forward to working with our partners in industry and academia to tackle an urgent need that is beyond the scope of any one organization or sector."
NCATS was established last year to help address this gap. The center supports rigorous scientific research designed to move basic research findings into new treatments for patients.
The president's fiscal year 2013 budget proposed $575 million for NCATS, of which about $20 million will support research grants of up to 3 years for preclinical and clinical feasibility studies. These studies will test more than 20 compounds against a variety of diseases and conditions.
The pilot program incorporates innovative template agreements designed to streamline the legal and administrative process for participation by multiple organizations. The templates also provide a roadmap for handling intellectual property rights. Industry partners will retain ownership of their compounds, and academic research partners will hold property rights to their discoveries and the right to publish the results of their research.