Medical Moment: Drug repurposing saves time, money, and lives

Published: Nov. 14, 2023 at 5:49 PM EST
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(WNDU) - It takes an average of 10 to 12 years and billions of dollars for a new drug to become FDA-approved.

But what if that time and money could be much less? See how doctors are finding new ways to use old drugs.

From cancer to dementia to Parkinson’s, doctors are in a race against time to find new drugs to cure incurable diseases. But what if that time could be cut?

“There are many medications that have already been developed and people are using for other indications and other diagnoses that could be helpful in other diseases, as well,” said Dr. David Edwards, who specializes in pain medicine at Vanderbilt.

Dr. Edwards’ current repurposing study utilizes a database of 300,000 patients’ DNA sequences to uncover genetics and disease links.

“We don’t know who the patients are, but we know what their diseases were. So, we link the changes in their DNA to the type of diseases that they have,” Dr. Edwards explained.

These DNA links go through specialized software that suggests selected repurposed drugs.

“So, once we know what medications might act on that person’s disease, then we design a trial with that new medication,” Dr. Edwards continued.

They did this with Guanfacine, a drug used for ADHD and blood pressure, and lidocaine, a topical numbing agent.

“At the end of the study, we see, was the hypothesis correct? Did the patients who took the medication have pain relief that lasted longer?” asked Dr. Edwards.

Patients on Lidocaine get two hours of pain relief; if patients need longer pain relief, then Guanfacine could be an effective treatment for trigeminal nerve pain. Vanderbilt’s drug repurposing program has tested a dozen other medications.

“It’s really rewarding to bring that, something new to a patient that’s suffered so long, especially in the field of pain.”

Edwards says the final step is drug delivery testing via injections, oral use, or nasal sprays. Each study is double-blinded, so no patients realize whether they got just the original drug, Lidocaine, or an additional medication.