Exploring the Growing Interest in Drug Repurposing in Oncology

A new joint study to identify trends in the repurposing research activity and its impact, geographical spread and the relative funding compared to other areas of research in cancer

There is a rapidly growing degree of global interest in the field of drug repurposing in oncology among members of the public and from some policy makers. Drug repurposing is defined as the reuse of drugs as anticancer therapies, according to press release of Anticancer Fund (ACF) issued on 4 February 2016. The promise of repurposing is that drugs with low toxicity and relatively low costs can be made available to patients in a rapidly reduced time-frame compared to the development of totally new drugs. In the last two or three years there has been an apparent increase in the number of publications and clinical studies in this area. However, the true scale of this increased level of research on the topic is currently unknown.

Now a new joint project between the ACF, based in Belgium, and the Institute of Cancer Policy (ICP), King’s College London aims to change that. The ACF both publishes research on potential repurposed drugs such as nitroglycerin and supports clinical trials using them, such as the Nitro-Maastro trial of chemoradiation and nitroglycerin in lung cancer ( NCT01210378). The ICP is a leader in delivering high impact Commissions into major policy issues, from Affordable Cancer Care in High Income Countries, to regional studies of cancer policy in emerging economies and, most recently, new Commissions on Global Surgery and Health, Equity and Women’s Cancers.

This new analysis will bring the advanced tools and algorithms for which the ICP is internationally known to bear on an area of research in which the ACF has been a key player, particularly with regards to its role in the Repurposing Drugs in Oncology (ReDO) project. The aim of the ICP-ACF joint study, due to complete by the end of 2016, is to identify trends in the repurposing research activity and impact, to describe its geographical spread and to look at the relative funding compared to other areas of research in cancer.

Prof Richard Sullivan, Director ICP stated that: ‘Understanding who, where and what research is being conducted into drug repurposing for cancer treatment is essential for guiding policy-makers and funders to support the development of this critical, but often overlooked, area of drug development.’

Lydie Meheus, Managing Director of the Anticancer Fund commented that:  ‘This study will be used to convince policy makers and philanthropic research communities of the potential value of this type of independent research.  The ultimate goal is to offer more beneficial treatment options to patients in need today, particularly for groups with high unmet needs, such as those with rare cancers, paediatric cancers and patients with metastatic and treatment-resistant disease.’

ACF is ESMO partner in production and dissemination the Guides for patients series based on the ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines.

ACF with the ReDO project has published peer-reviewed papers on the scientific rationale and policy issues related to repurposing in cancer, for example ‘ The Repurposing Drugs in Oncology (ReDO) Project’ and ‘ Repurposing drugs in your medicine cabinet: untapped opportunities for cancer therapy?’. There have also been a number of research papers on individual drugs, including mebendazole (anti-parasitic), cimetidine (ant-acid), itraconazole (anti-fungal), clarithromycin (antibiotic), nitroglycerin (anti-angina) and diclofenac (pain-killer). The ACF supports a range of clinical trials using repurposed drugs in different cancers, including pre-operative ketorolac in breast cancer ( NCT01806259 - results due in July 2017), a four-drug combination in osteosarcoma ( NCT02517918) and a trial of an antibiotic and an anti-diabetic drug in combination with low-dose chemotherapy in lung cancer.

The Institute of Cancer Policy is part of King’s College London and King’s Health Partners Comprehensive Cancer Centre. It is internationally recognised for its excellence in global cancer policy research, particularly the study of systems of cancer care and research. The ICP has an extensive network of global partners including National Cancer Grid of India, NCO Centre for Global Health, and Union for International Cancer Control (UICC).