Friday, 22 April 2016

My Views on Drug Repurposing Conference

So, the last 3 posts have reported what I heard at the conference, and I thought it appropriate to reflect on this and record my views on what I heard.

Hidden Costs

I think that the most powerful thing was the "hidden costs of rare diseases" from Matt Hammond:

  • Psychological
  • Time (travelling, seeing professionals etc.)
  • Finance (travelling)
  • Missing out (on other activities and events)
  • Form filling (it seems there a lot of forms in some cases)
  • Loneliness (being the only one in your situation)
  • The need to plan everything (because of the effects of the disease) 

Matts story was very powerful, and you could feel everyone in the room being affected by the emotional roller-coaster he described. It made me realise the benefits of having a quick and certain diagnosis, and I'm quite pleased I dont have all that uncertainty and delay in getting one.

Drug Repurposing

In terms of drug repurposing, I understand the process that is gone through. I hadn't realised quite the extent of drug re-purposing, and this is done because repurposing is cheaper, quicker and less risky. Although, there doesn't appear to be quite the same incentive to do this as there is for developing a new drug. The main thing to take away is the need to collaborate, most of the papers described that collaboration was needed between the different people involved in the chain. There are several steps:

1) Identify a need.
Firstly, it is necessary to define a need for a new drug. This is where the collaboration between patients, patient groups and clinicians is important. There needs to be sufficient interest in an issue for researchers to look at it, and this is where patient groups can come in very useful by keeping on top of research activities and knowing about patients with condition to (potentially) have a sample of real-world patients who are interested in taking part in research trials.

2) Look for solutions.
With a need in mind it becomes necessary for researchers/clinicians to look for solutions to the need. Several different approaches were described. At one end of the scale the knowledge of the clinician about the need can be used to look through existing information to identify candidates. At the other end of the scale computers are used to search through database libraries of molecules/drugs for candidates. It is a positive that the drug companies/pharma are getting involved with sharing their libraries of molecules/drugs with researchers. 

3) Gathering evidence.
The candidate drugs/molecules then have to be examined to ensure that they are safe and if so, tests and investigations can be made to identify the ones with the greatest potential. If the evidence does not demonstrate improvements in patients then it is necessary to set up a trial.

4) Trials.
Often a trial is needed in order to provide evidence that the drug is safe to use and gives results. Sometimes there will need to be a balance struck between improvements gained and negative side effects. Depending on funding and other constraints the trial may be large or small. Once successful trials are reported, this informs the medical community and the treatment can spread. Issues with trials revolve around getting the right population of patients to take part and their distance from the research centre. Sometimes it is a combination of therapies which gives good results.

Data Sources

I was interested to hear about the different work on data sources, with different tools extracting information from papers in order to allow them to be searched in a database. Two different examples were given, and I particularly like the healx one: .

Sharing Results

One thing which came up a few times in presentations was about how it is generally only successful trials which are published/publicised. In terms of drug repurposing it is perhaps useful to see unsuccessful trial results to allow the safety/function of drugs to be evaluated for other purposes.


Naturally, researchers need to be paid to work, and there is the issue of funding for such work. There is not the same commercial drivers for funding as there are for new drug discoveries, and that is another aspect where collaboration is needed. Often, the patient groups raise money and provide funding, and often deals can be done with the drug manufacturers to get the drugs needed and information about them for trials at a reasonable price (or free). Various research organisations and drug companies are joining forces to be able to run/organise/fund research projects.

Student Essay Competition

One other thing which I felt was really good was the student essay competition. At the conference the awards were presented. You can see about this, and download the essays on the findacure website. As I write this is on page 2 of their news, but I suspect that will soon enough drop to a later page. Interesting stuff!


In conclusion I found the day really useful, and thanks to the UK HSP support group for paying for my ticket! There were also lots of interesting people to talk to in the coffee breaks and it was good to find out more about what happens. Many of the companies present at the event were based in Cambridge, which is my home town! I think that the role of patient groups in understanding what research is being done and sharing that information with their members is important, as is feeding back real world experience/problems to the researchers so they can potentially capture some of this in their research design. Social media seems to be a very important resource for promoting and sharing information, and I'm pleased to report what I heard and saw in order to share this information with you.

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