Teaching New Tricks to Old Dogs: Drug Re-purposing

Current cancer therapy includes a range of therapeutics, and whilst there are many pharmaceutical companies attempting to create new drugs in order to fight cancer, we forget that already produced drugs could have different uses. So can’t we save all the phases of clinical trials and just re-purpose old drugs for new uses?

Drug re-purposing is a good way to use already made drugs and treat different diseases they weren’t originally intended for, this means that the way the drug works as a therapeutic has already been recognised, its safety and usefulness has already been recognised too which can help predict side effects this treatment might have for its new purpose.

Metfomin is a drug originally used to treat diabetes type 2, but it has been found that these diabetic patients taking the drug are 31% less likely to develop cancer – this means this drug must have some anti-cancer properties and inhibit one of the 6 hallmarks of cancer mentioned in my previous blog.

Another drug that has been successfully re-purposed is Thalidomide. Failed in its original use as a morning sickness preventative in the 1950s resulting in it being banned, it has now been re-purposed for those suffering with leprosy. This is down to its highly anti-angiogenic properties – this means it prevents the body from creating new blood vessels.


Creating new blood vessels is one of the key hallmarks of cancer, and if there is a drug that prevents this successfully, wouldn’t it be a good candidate to be re-purposed for cancer?

Actually… yes! it would be!! Thalidomide successfully entered trials to be used for treating multiple myeloma, and is now the current treatment. Now that’s a good start to drug re-purposing!

On the other hand an Article in Science Transition Medicine outlines an opposing view by Derek Lowe, saying that drug re-purposing is not the way forward for new therapeutics. Lowe argues that it is not worth the time and effort to ‘randomly’ use compounds against ‘unrelated diseases’ as this does not produce reliable result.

But then how would he explain the successes in drug re-purposing?


Through its previous successes, we can safely say drug re-purposing is a way forward to develop new treatments for cancer. An article published in Nature talks more of how the use of simple drugs such as Ibuprofen, a well known anti-inflammatory drug ,poses a second action and this is to control cellular regulating pathways which has proved to help those who have suffered from spinal injuries.

A limitation to this is the funding involved to kick start the research on a larger scale than what it already is, to enable scientists to find more pre-existing drugs that will help with cancer, especially terminal cancer.

For all we know, the cure for many cancers may be straight in front of us and already produced, but how are we to know if we don’t find out?

The cure was there all along… playing peek-a-boo?!

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