The National Institutes of Health (NIH) today unveiled the details of its $20 million program for finding new uses for abandoned drugs—along with five more participating companies. The program's expansion brings to 58 the number of shelved compounds that academic researchers can test for new uses.
Discovering New Therapeutic Uses for Existing Molecules, announced in early May, is the first major initiative from NIH's new National Center for Advancing Translational Science (NCATS). The idea is to give academic researchers access to compounds that made it through safety testing but were dropped by companies for business reasons or because they didn't work on a specific disease. Initially, three companies—Pfizer, AstraZeneca, and Eli Lilly—offered to share 24 compounds.
Now Abbott Laboratories, Bristol-Myers Squibb, GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi, and Janssen Pharmaceuticals have signed on, bringing the number of compounds to 58. NIH has posted a table of the compounds that links to one-page fact sheets about the drugs that include the mechanism of action and summary clinical results. NIH is also taking preapplications (due 14 August) for the program's 2- to 3-year grants.
The program has gotten a mixed response from pharma experts; some think the chances of finding new uses for the compounds are slim. Others are supportive but have concerns about the template legal agreements NIH has developed for companies and academics. In this 1 June letter to NCATS, the Association of American Medical Colleges says the templates should be revised because they "require academic partners to share data and other information with firms providing the compounds even where IP [intellectual property] rights do not necessarily extend to that information."