Letters

Purposeful Learning with Drug Repurposing

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Science  11 Sep 2009:
Vol. 325, Issue 5946, pp. 1339-1340
DOI: 10.1126/science.325_1339

High-throughput screening (HTS) of comprehensive approved drug libraries has revealed new uses for old drugs (1, 2). Although repurposing of drugs has been used for decades at the discretion of physicians (3), the Policy Forum “Repurposing with a difference” by M. S. Boguski et al. (12 June, p. 1394) describes a revolutionary approach to research and development in the drug industry that uses “repurposing pharmacovigilance” to find novel beneficial effects of drugs rather than adverse effects. This is a systematic approach that integrates new business models, patient-as-consumer activism through online social networking, information technology, and genomics as powerful tools.

As educators at the undergraduate and graduate levels, we believe that “repurposing pharmacovigilance” offers an innovative and relatively inexpensive interdisciplinary learning approach that can be used to engage students across the sciences and medicine as well as business and the humanities. Through analysis of case studies, students can learn about neglected diseases from a scientific and public policy point of view. Student project teams can work together in the classroom or laboratory to explore statistical data mining with the use of patient advocacy Web sites such as Resounding Health, pharmacological data, or analysis of HTS results from drug libraries to reveal new repurposing applications. Budding scientists trained in rights-based approaches would not limit themselves to drug development but would strive toward the availability of a public health structure, accessibility of these innovations, and acceptability by the users as well as the high quality of drugs (4). The scientific and ethical questions that evolve for discussion and debate around developing and providing these drugs to the target population will prepare the next generation of scientists and physicians for meeting the new challenges of unmet medical needs that lie ahead. Ultimately, patients will benefit from a more efficient drug discovery process that relies on complementary, not conflicting, scientific and human rights principles.

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