Photo of the panellists
Dr Annika Jenmalm Jensen, Professor James Barlow, Dr Thomas Lundbäck and Dr Bastian Rake.

Reusing drug compounds - scientific and managerial perspectives

Reusing existing drug compounds – also labelled as repurposing or repositioning – has gained some attention in the bio-medical literature and beyond. But what do we really know about repurposing from scientific and managerial perspectives?

Dr Annika Jenmalm Jensen, Infrastructure director, SciLifeLab (Karolinska Institute); Professor James Barlow (Imperial College London); Dr Thomas Lundbäck, Senior Director, Mechanistic and Structural Biology (AstraZeneca); and Dr Bastian Rake, Chair of the panel (Maynooth University & Affiliated Researcher at U-GOT KIES), discussed this question in a panel discussion during the 11th Workshop on Medical Innovation.

Repurposing has both potential and challenges

The panellists agreed that repurposing has some potential for medical innovation, but challenges remain. There are different understandings of repurposing, and the terminology is often loosely used in various business and academic settings. Reusing existing drug compounds in different disease areas is often seen as a response to long development times, escalating drug development cost, and unmet healthcare needs. However, repurposing is not a quick fix to these challenges as it requires rigorous research that shares substantial similarities with the discovery and development of de novo compounds. Substantial clinical research may be required to generate data following state of the art research protocols to obtain market approval. The need for substantial additional research reduces the potential for cost savings and decreasing development times.

Challenges need to be explored further

While it is evident that patient groups and other not-for-profit organizations engage in repurposing, little is known about the extent of the engagement of for-profit companies, as well as their incentives and business models. In this context, it is also important to explore how repurposing may compete with off label prescriptions and with industry initiatives to expand into additional indications as part of the normal life cycle management of an existing drug. While it may be appealing to do drug repurposing in more distant indications, where firms may not be naturally pursuing options, proper due diligence must be done to verify the existence of true business opportunities. Furthermore, the role of patents and market exclusivity and their role for incentivizing repurposing needs to be investigated further.

Many open questions remain, and further research is required to assess whether the hopes and expectations associated with repurposing do materialize and whether policies to support repurposing need to be developed.

Photo of Dr Bastain Rake
Dr Bastian Rake

Author: Dr Bastian Rake, Chair of the panel

WOMI 2022

The Workshop on Medical Innovation took place at AstraZeneca Mölndal site, Sweden, in December 2022. It was co-organized by the Gothenburg Centre on Knowledge-intensive Innovation Ecosystems (U-GOT KIES) and AstraZeneca.