There are many drugs in the world of medicine that are known to treat a variety of diseases. However, what many people who live in places such as Santa Cruz homes and other common types of residences do not expect is that some of these drugs end up being able to treat not only the diseases for which they were initially developed, but other medical issues as well. A popular example is Rogaine; even though it was initially developed for heart problems, it was also found to regrow hair.
The Case Comprehensive Cancer Center at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine is home to a group of researchers who have created a computer program that finds new purposes for known drugs; it is called DrugPredict. It does exactly what the name implies, which is predicting potential drug efficacy on diseases, using the existing data about the FDA-approved drugs that are in the system. They have already had successful results with this program; they took the findings given by the computer and showed in the laboratory that non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are capable of killing patient-derived epithelial ovarian cancer cells. They exposed patient-derived epithelial ovarian cancer cells that they had grown to indomethacin, which is an NSAID; it was found to kill cells that were both drug sensitive and drug resistant. The cells perished even more quickly when chemotherapy drugs were added into the mix. These findings alone are significant in that they could be a large step towards a new type of treatment for epithelial ovarian cancer.
The implications of this experiment are exciting not only for this particular disease but others as well. If this drug could be so effective in killing epithelial ovarian cancer cells, the sky is the limit as far as other drugs and their potential capabilities for treating diseases could go. One of the major positive implications that this could have is that because the drugs that are already FDA approved already have known safety profiles and can be administered without a whole lot of additional testing. When a new drug is being introduced onto the market, it typically takes about 14 years to reach patients; that is, if it even ends up successfully passing through all of the rigorous trials and procedures. It also costs about $800 million to bring these drugs to the market. Additionally, using existing drugs for new purposes will make it so that medicine is more easily accessible and less expensive to the aging population that will be requiring it in the coming years.
Atul Butte, an expert in bioinformatics at Stanford University School of Medicine in California, conducted another study that led to a way to repurpose known drugs for new diseases. Butte and his colleagues collaborated to consolidate data on how drugs and diseases can have effects on the genes of a human cell, which number about 30,000. They have collected information on the specific genes that are silenced or activated by these agents, with the hypothesis that if a disease is characterized by a certain change in gene expression, a drug that creates the reverse effect in that particular gene could end up being therapeutic for that particular disease.
In order to find these disease-drug pairs, Butte and his colleagues worked with public databases and compared data for 164 drug molecules with that for 100 diseases. They were able to find potentially therapeutic drugs for 53 of the diseases; many of these had already been turned into therapeutic methods for the diseases, but there were others that were not expected at all. One example was cimetidine, an over-the-counter drug that is used to treat heartburn and inhibits acid production in the stomach; it was found to be a match to a certain type of lung cancer. The researchers decided to explore this potential link by looking at a mouse model of lung cancer and the effect that this compound could have. They were able to show that it slowed down the growth of human lung cancer cells, although it did not slow growth of mouse kidney cancer cells.
According to Butte, the opportunities for repurposing drugs in this way are growing very quickly. Though he and his colleagues started out with 100 diseases and 164 drug compounds 5 years ago, they are now working with 1,400 diseases and 300 drug compounds. There are so many more combinations that can be explored in this array, not to mention all of the other diseases and drugs that are out there and still waiting to be combined and tested in laboratories. The implications of this work and the new treatments that can be discovered for a huge variety of diseases is quite staggering and represents a new era of medicine that is characterized by a plethora of possibilities. This could really revolutionize medicine and make it so that people in Santa Cruz homes will have easier and cheaper options for treatments in the very near future.