Building a Sustainable Drug Repurposing Ecosystem

Innovation doesn’t come just from giving people incentives; it comes from creating environments where their ideas can connect.
Steven Johnson, Popular science author and media theorist


Drug repurposing has the potential to quickly deliver effective, accessible and affordable treatments to millions of people suffering from unsolved diseases.  There are significant challenges to overcome, particularly when repurposing drugs for the thousands of diseases with limited commercial opportunity. Once we unlock the solutions to these challenges, the full potential for significant patient impact from drug repurposing can be realized.

What is needed are new economic, collaboration and regulatory incentives to create the conditions in which drug repurposing can flourish. There are three important elements:

1. An infrastructure to support repurposing research that enables researchers and clinicians to systematically identify and test the potential of existing drugs for new disease indications and share that knowledge globally.

2. New funding mechanisms that enable all stakeholders – public, private and non-profit – to collaborate and reward affordable and effective drug repurposing innovations.

3. Greater public and organizational awareness of the profound and rapid patient impact from drug repurposing to support its development.

Fund Infrastructure for Repurposing Research

There are a number of organizations engaged in repurposing research that could benefit from greater collaboration and use of best practices to reduce duplication, share knowledge, and attract more funding.

What is needed is investment in collaborative platforms.

One example of a collaborative platform is the CureAccelerator, launched in 2015 by Cures Within Reach, an organization that has been championing repurposing since 2005.

This platform was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and is designed to create both a collaboration space and a drug repurposing marketplace so that funders, researchers and clinicians can work together to undertake multiple repurposing projects every year.

To find out more contact:

Clare Thibodeaux, PhD, Director of Scientific Affairs

Cures Within Reach

134 N. La Salle Street, Suite 1130

Chicago, IL 60602

Develop Sustainable Financing Models

To support the growth of networks of researchers committed to developing new treatments through drug repurposing requires a stable flow of funds. Traditionally, this funding has been small grants from non-profit and government agencies. To scale drug repurposing requires creating new ways to finance drug repurposing.

What is needed is new funding partnerships.

One avenue to explore is the potential of “social finance” which can take many forms, all of which involve a government or other funder paying for improved healthcare outcomes and reduced healthcare costs. Mindset Social Innovation Foundation has commissioned the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing to review the potential for social finance tools, such as Social Impact Bonds.

Raise Awareness of Drug Repurposing

To create an environment where drug repurposing flourishes requires greater public and political awareness of its potential to improve healthcare outcomes and reduce healthcare costs. Traditionally, science is funded and celebrated when it creates something brand new, not when it does something useful by repurposing something old.

To elevate drug repurposing to mainstream science requires shifting mindsets to see how truly innovative drug repurposing can be. Repurposing accelerates the development of effective, accessible and affordable solutions to unsolved diseases, challenging the standard view that innovation needs to be long, novel and expensive.

What is need are public awareness and engagement initiatives.

This could take a number of different forms, for example:

  • A publicly accessible and interesting “solutions journalism” project to profile historical drug repurposing success, and current individuals and organizations championing drug repurposing.
  • A Drug Repurposing Day that celebrates achievements and challenges stakeholders to support drug repurposing efforts.
  • National and international awards to leaders who support drug repurposing, building off the success of awards such as the Cures Within Reach Global Health Repurposing Awards  (GHRA).