Redeploying old drugs
We were treated to fascinating presentations from Dr Owen Williams and Dr Luca Gasparoli, whose work is focused on the redeployment of ‘old’ drugs to target genetic mutations known to be involved in the development of childhood leukaemias. Owen was awarded a project grant in 2014 to support this work.
Redeploying old drugs in this way, rather than setting out to develop new drugs, has numerous advantages. To develop a new drug typically takes more than 15 years, costing hundreds of millions of pounds. And even after this huge investment of time and money, many drugs fail along the way, proving ineffective or unsafe, and do not ever reach patients.
The alternative is to look at drugs already approved for use in humans – and used in the treatment of other diseases. Taking advantage of modern genetic technology, it is possible to screen libraries of existing drugs to identify those that act on pathways known to be important in childhood leukaemias. Research carried out by Owen and Luca, under our project grant, has led to the identification of a promising candidate drug. The team is now completing laboratory testing before submitting their work for journal publication and scrutiny by the scientific community, the essential next step towards getting it to the clinic.
We had the opportunity to see for ourselves the effects of this candidate drug. Owen took us to his lab to look at leukaemic cells through the microscope and compare ‘healthy’, proliferating untreated cells with cells that had been treated and killed by the drug.