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Building bright new homes for old drugs

Dr David Cavalla of Numedicus, through a joint affiliation with the Department of Pharmacology and Cambridge Enterprise, is leading an initiative to bring the benefits of drug repurposing to University of Cambridge researchers. Drug repurposing is an inelegant name for the study of secondary uses for existing drugs, such as thalidomide for leprosy or myeloma. David has a background and much experience from the pharmaceutical and biotechnology sectors, applying this strategy successfully in the fields of cancer cachexia, sleep apnea and irritable bowel syndrome. He also has experience in the fields of dermatitis, neuropathic pain (and is working already with Prof Peter McNaughton on some University projects in this area) and asthma.

There is a significant opportunity to use drug repurposing to enable rapid translation of drug repurposed projects into clinical study. This is particularly so for neuroscience, for a number of reasons. Firstly, preclinical models in neuroscience are often crude mimics of the real human situation, and the true value of neuroscience research can only be unveiled in a clinical context. Secondly, taking an existing clinically approved drug enables shortcuts in the development pathway that avoid or reduce preclinical toxicology tests, which academic researchers are rarely equipped to undertake; as a result, these clinical tests can be conducted shortly after a biological discovery has been made in the lab. And thirdly, repurposing involves method of use patents, which are uniquely offered in the pharmaceutical field, so that commercial interests to fund larger Phase III trials can be attracted.

David said, “I am delighted to be here to help Cambridge researchers take advantage of drug repurposing as a tool to enhance the translation of their work into the clinic. There are already examples where the University has benefited from repurposing, such as the development of the anti-leukemic drug alemtuzumab (Campath™) for multiple sclerosis. However, to date it has been through serendipity rather than determinate strategy. I hope that by engaging with University researchers at an early stage of their work, I can help map out a path to bring their discoveries to the benefit of patients as early as possible.”

Cambridge Neuroscience will be organising a seminar in the next few weeks to bring together significant teachings in this area and will announce this separately. In the meantime, interested parties may like to explore the database of over 2,000 repurposing opportunities available through  David can be contacted at

Posted on 01/11/2013

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