Repurposing drugs: a missed opportunity

4 min read

Key principles and suggestions to foster collaboration and unleash the potential of repurposing drugs, for more equal and accessible healthcare.

We can’t learn, be active citizens, get a job, or be a part of a group unless we have good health. This means that every country needs to make research and availability of drugs a top priority. That has been exacerbated by the current pandemic.

Life Science research has always been a key part of how humans have grown and changed.

Research for new drugs is difficult. Accessible treatments are even harder. Under current life sciences models, companies are less likely to work on rare disease treatments because they are costly, difficult to understand, and needed by few. Companies avoid these issues by overcharging orphan drugs.

The reality is that not all diseases are equal in a money-driven world.

Unfortunately, the high cost of these medications can make it difficult for patients to obtain them, either because their national health service does not cover them or because they are required to pay a significant amount for their own health insurance or medications.

Repurposing existing medications has the potential to both hasten the production of orphan drugs and reduce their overall cost.

Said so, we hear a lot about personalized medicines, billions of dollars being spent on patents even before they hit the markets, and not much about the repurposing of compounds that are already available, are safe, and have a high chance of working for some of these diseases.

Then why is it so difficult?

The primary reason for this is that the same barriers that shield the industry and encourage investments over the long term prevent cooperation.

To put it another way, humanity is currently resting on a sealed casket that contains the remedies that could lead to longer, healthier lives, but there are no plans to assemble the key to open it.

This is the current state of affairs in terms of repurposing, repositioning, and re-profiling existing drugs.

Life science organizations, healthcare institutions, the government, politicians, and universities should collaborate with digital competence firms to create an ecosystem for improving collaboration and taking repurposing to new heights in order to realize this potential.

It is much simpler to state than to actually carry out the action. This is an attempt to lay out key principles and make suggestions to foster collaboration and unleash the potential for more equal and accessible healthcare.

Why should we invest in drug repurposing

There are three compelling arguments in favor of developing the ecosystem for drug repurposing:

The first advantage is that these compounds have already been tried out on patients and subjected to extensive testing in the past. At the very least from the perspective of safety, this reduces the likelihood that subsequent efficacy trials will be unsuccessful.

The second factor to take into account is time. The clinical testing phase of developing a new medication can take several years. Repurposing an existing drug cuts down on the amount of time needed for its development because the majority of the drug’s preclinical testing, safety evaluation, and, in some instances, formulation development have already been finished.

The issue of available resources brings this discussion to a close. In spite of the fact that expenses for phase III and regulatory testing might be the same as they would be for a brand-new drug with the same indication, the cost of developing an existing drug could be reduced by as much as 60% percent thanks to cost-savings made in earlier stages, a faster return on investment (ROI), and a higher success rate (30% approved applications against 10% for new drugs).

Fostering cooperation in five simple steps

First and foremost, we need better systems for analyzing data.

Data integration and access to clinical and experimental data is still a constraint. We hear a lot about low coding, user experience, and breakthroughs in collaborative technology in many different industries, but when it comes to life science, these ideas are still in their infancy and have a long way to go before they become commonplace.

When these take off, we will see a decrease in human curation and an increase in insights because medical domain specialists can use them beyond their “IT talents.”

Second, all actors in the healthcare ecosystem must have access to preclinical and clinical compounds if we want to create a market that facilitates the repurposing of pharmaceuticals that are not patentable. Academic researchers, patient advocacy groups, and charitable organizations should be able to access large repositories of compounds, patient data, and clinical studies through protocols that are simple while still complying with HIPAA regulations.

Third, we need to rethink the process of conducting clinical trials by making it easier for outside experts to search for new results, adding additional validation that could potentially speed up studies, and repurposing options that would maximize the benefits.

Fourth, the function of pharmacovigilance should be expanded so that it encompasses more than just adverse events. Innovative approaches should be utilized, including data collected after testing and marketing. Analyzing data collected in the real world on how drugs are administered to people suffering from a wide variety of illnesses could result in the discovery of new safety indications and repurposing opportunities. Amazon is collecting this data compliantly with Pill Pack, and it appears to be a significant step forward in this regard.

Fifth, any update to the ecosystem needs to include an incentive structure in order to stimulate ongoing financing of drug repurposing initiatives, the creation of drug repurposing libraries, the availability of collaborative technologies, research on rare diseases, and the recoupment of investment in studies that have been discontinued. A plan for investing in the repurposing of drugs needs to reach beyond national boundaries while still complying with local regulatory requirements.


The repurposing of the already-existing drug presents a significant opportunity to lower the cost of drugs while also expanding access to them.

We need better systems for analyzing data, and we need to rethink the process of conducting clinical trials. All actors in the healthcare ecosystem must have access to preclinical and clinical compounds. A plan for investing in the repurposing of drugs needs to reach beyond national boundaries.

Authorities should encourage royalty mechanisms that may result in lower annual costs while simultaneously providing better services to their population as a payback from the healthcare system. Today, technologies such as blockchain and cloud computing can provide the infrastructure.We need to change our approach.

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Disclaimer: Views or opinions represented in this article are personal and belong solely to the article writer and do not represent those of people, institutions, or organizations that the writer may or may not be associated with in a professional or personal capacity unless explicitly stated.

Flavio Aliberti Flavio Aliberti brings with him a 20-year track record in consulting around business intelligence, change management, strategy, M&A transformation, IT and SOX auditing for high regulated domains, like Insurance, Airlines, Trade Associations, Automotive, and Pharma. He holds an MSc in Space Aeronautic Engineering from the University of Naples and an MSc in Advanced Information Technology and Business Management from the University of Wales.

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