Repurposing Podcast – is NCATS ‘discovering new therapeutic uses for existing molecules’ a sweetener to Pharma?

A few weeks ago I was interviewed for a podcast by Andrew Wiecek at BioTechniques. I generally have tended to shy away from Podcasts after a previous disaster. But Andrew twisted my arm because the topic was drug repurposing and in particular he asked questions about the NCATS / MRC compounds for repurposing and the attempts with Chris Southan and Antony Williams to put molecule structures to the IDs which the companies provided. Well you can hear me talking (not very clearly I might add) but also (probably more importantly) you can hear Chris Austin answering Andrew’s questions on the same topic. While we were interviewed at different times, so there was no chance to put questions directly to Chris, it was interesting to hear:

1. That the lack of structures was a pharma requirement and well anyone could readily find the structures of the compounds by Googling and Wikipedia just using the IDs provided. I do not think so, has anyone at NCATS tried that and if that is the case why would companies not just put their structures on the website!

2. That NCATS and the pharmas were only looking for uses on-target or on-therapeutic area and not off-target (e.g. finding a compound with known CNS applications that could cure cancer). If this is the case clearly the website is vague stating “This innovative program matches researchers with a selection of molecular compounds from industry to test ideas for new therapeutic uses, with the ultimate goal of identifying promising new treatments for patients.”

3 It is also wonderful in this day and age that the only people the NIH thinks can discover new uses for drugs is MD’s. Had to stop myself laughing there.. How many medicinal chemists and biologists are MDs? Sorry we do not all belong to that club.

So it is nearly a year on from my first post on this topic and it seems to me that the whole repurposing thing was/ is a publicity stunt for the NCATS launch combined with an olive branch (to help pharmas) to overcome any criticism they were competing in some way with them. It is interesting how the NIH can find $20M to “help pharmas” find a few new uses for their own drugs. Combined with some of the bigger government incentives to find new antibiotics etc it pales in comparison. But anyway for all the talk of transparency, for the NIH to do something that was this opaque is just amazing. You do not need NCATS to find new uses that are on target..You do not need MDs, just ask any of the thousands of rare and neglected disease organizations looking for molecules to test.  Companies themselves could do that pretty easily by connecting to clinicians, foundations, patient organizations. I think NCATS / Pharmas closed themselves off to new ideas by just listening to what they wanted to hear and missed a bigger opportunity.

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