News Feature | December 18, 2014

U.K., U.S. Collaboration Seeks To Repurpose Drugs As Neurological Treatments

By Suzanne Hodsden

U.S. non-profit, Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation (ADDFF) and the Alzheimer’s Society U.K. (ASUK) announced they would be funding two separate clinical trials to establish alternate proof of concept and potentially repurpose two pipeline medications indicated for separate illnesses. One study will test the efficacy of an erectile dysfunction (ED) medication against vascular dementia, and the other will test a diabetes medication as an Alzheimer’s treatment.

The collaboration has allocated nearly $500,000 to St. George’s University of London, where researchers led by Atticus Hainsworth will study tadalafil, marketed by Eli Lilly as Cialis.

Currently, tadalafil is indicated for the treatment of ED and benign prostatic hyperplasia. Because the drug works by dilating the blood vessels, the St. George’s scientists are hopeful that the drug might prove useful in increasing blood flow to brain tissue and alleviating the symptoms of vascular dementia.

Another $250,000 has been allocated to scientists at Lancaster University to study an experimental injectable diabetes medication called liraglutide, currently licensed by Novo Nordisk. Previous studies have shown that the drug has the potential to reverse memory loss and the build-up of plaque in the brain, which is symptomatic of Alzheimer’s Disease.

The Alzheimer’s Association puts the current number of Alzheimer’s at 5 million, and that number is expected to exponentially increase as the population ages and the disease proliferates.

Earlier this year, scientists expressed concerns whether scientists would be able to meet the goals outlined by President Obama in The National Alzheimer’s Project Act (NAPA) in 2011, which intended to find a range of effective treatments for Alzheimer’s by 2025.

According to the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), this field of research sees a lot of failure and the development of any treatments from scratch is a high-risk and costly investment.

These obstacles have led researchers to search among existing medications which have already passed preliminary safety inspections and potentially repurpose them as treatments for alternate illnesses.

Doug Brown, director of Research and Development at the ASUK explains that these potential treatments could provide a valuable and life-saving short-cut for drug developers and “could see existing treatments turned into drugs for the most common forms of dementia in a fraction of the time and at a fraction of the cost of developing new drugs.”

A recent Tufts study put the cost of developing a new medication from start to finish conservatively around $2.6B.