The average cost of developing a new drug is estimated to be in the billions and takes 10-15 years. Drug repurposing aims at retargeting existing drugs or drug candidates for the treatment of medical conditions that they were not originally developed, or licensed, to treat. With the advent of big data, computational biology and network biology, scientists have realized that many existing drugs can be efficacious in the treatment of diseases with similar molecular profiles. Since the safety of these drugs has already been evaluated in the clinic, this approach dramatically cuts the cost of drug development and speeds up the time to get a drug from bench to bedside. It also promises to improve the treatment of rare diseases, in which the enormous investment required for drug development is economically not viable.
“Our consortium aims to create a European infrastructure to get the right drug to the right patient”, says group leader Jörg Menche. “We bring together stakeholders from different fields to provide a platform for all matters related to drug repurposing, such as identifying a potential purpose for a novel compound, connecting an existing drug to a new indication, addressing intellectual property rights, or conducting targeted clinical trials”. Jörg’s group will work at the scientific core of the consortium: “We will use our molecular network expertise to identify the actual molecular modules that are being perturbed in a given disease, and then try to match this information with existing compounds and approved drugs”, explains Jörg Menche.
Jörg also teaches ‘Network Medicine’ in the Master’s course in Molecular Precision Medicine, a joint program of the Medical University of Vienna and the University of Vienna. The goal of the course is to teach students the molecular basis of pathogenesis and how this information can be leveraged in treatments. For many diseases, the underlying mechanisms are poorly understood and treatment regimens often only tackle the symptoms. With its focus on connecting the molecular mechanisms that underlie diseases with appropriate medication, drug repurposing may also pave the way for personalized and precision medicine. “In our course, Jörg teaches how mathematics and computation can be used to disentangle complex interactions in the treatment of disease”, says Curriculum Director Thomas Leonard. “Jörg’s participation in an EU-wide effort to integrate knowledge and expertise for drug repurposing can only profit our students”.