Repurposing Existing Drugs for New Treatments
By LIDA TUNESI
Researchers have come up with a new way to see if drugs developed for one purpose might help treat other conditions. In a study in PLOS Computational Biology, a team from The Graduate Center, CUNY, and Hunter College, demonstrated how they can “repurpose” existing drugs to do two jobs at once, while reducing side effects.
“Drug repurposing can significantly reduce the costs for new drug development,” said Hansaim Lim, a Ph.D. student and author on the paper. “Since the drug has already gone through the extensive tests during its clinical trials, many parts of the tests can be accelerated if not skipped.”
The scientists created a platform called 3D-REMAP that screens existing drugs to see if they could be useful for medical treatments other than their original purpose. Using machine learning techniques, the researchers trained 3D-REMAP on data from fields including biophysics and cheminformatics. Having “learned” this information, 3D-REMAP can now predict how drugs will interact with proteins in the human body.
To demonstrate their idea, the researchers used 3D-REMAP to look for a drug that could fight cancer while simultaneously lowering a patient’s risk of heart failure, a known risk of many cancer therapies. They found that levosimendan, an existing heart failure drug, may also have potential as a treatment for various cancers including lymphoma. Testing this prediction on cells in the lab, the scientists saw that levosimendan is indeed able to inhibit the cancer cells’ growth.
That doesn’t necessarily mean levosimendan should be used as a cancer therapy. But it could be a starting point in developing new treatments or used in combination with other drugs. In any case, the authors say, the findings show this technique’s potential for precision drug discovery.
Authors on the paper also included Ph.D. students Di He and Yue Qiu, former research assistant Patrycja Krawczuk, visiting scholar Xiaoru Sun, and Professor Lei Xie of Hunter College and The Graduate Center.