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With times being very unusual right now the Findacure team is busily planning new ways to deliver our support and training to the rare disease community from home. A big component of that is clearly going to be delivered through our E-learning Portal and webinars programme, and you will already have noticed some new online learning resources popping up on our website in the last couple of weeks. First up we released a portal guide that provides handy tips on working from home – useful for those of us in covid-19 isolation, or for virtual and voluntary teams at the start of their patient group journey. Following this though we were pleased to run the first of new round of webinars last week, this one focusing on drug repurposing, and its role for both rare diseases and covid-19.

Drug repurposing is a term that we have been talking about at Findacure for over 5 years, but in the last few months there have been an increasing number of articles and news stories mentioning drug repurposing as a potential route to develop treatments for covid-19. In our recent webinar Findacure CEO Rick Thompson, and our Scientific Advisor Dr David Cavalla gave an overview of drug repurposing and tried to explain why it is so high on the agenda for covid-19, and why it should be at the forefront of our minds for rare diseases.

Repurposing is essentially recycling – it is the process of taking existing drugs and running experiments, and hopefully clinical trials, to demonstrate their use in treating different conditions. The real benefit of repurposing is that it reduces the time it takes to develop drugs and reduces the cost to do so. It does this because you are working with a drug that you already know something about. You don’t have to go through the expensive process of making a new chemical; you can use your existing knowledge to more quickly find some candidate drugs for your condition of interest; and you can use evidence from years of human use of the drug to demonstrate its safety, side effects, or risks. All this combines, to accelerate the speed with which you can begin to test the drug in human patients. Crucially, you still need to generate high quality evidence to show that the repurposed drug works in these patients – there is no accelerating this important stage of the process. However, you do get there faster.

This acceleration of the early stages of drug development is the reason why repurposing is so good for covid-19. Covid-19 is an emerging infectious condition, with a huge unmet need, and a real urgency for treatment. Using repurposed drugs give us the chance to get there faster and provide patients with a means of treatment that could help to save lives. Interestingly, these are the same characteristics that make repurposing such a valuable and important route for rare diseases. Rare diseases are rarely treated and poorly understood. There is a huge unmet need for treatments, and patients, at least, are desperate for these treatments soon. Furthermore, rare diseases are chronically under-resourced. Repurposing has a lower financial barrier to entry, that can make it a more realistic approach to begin to investigate new treatments for rare conditions, particularly those projects spearheaded by academic or patient organisations.

Our webinar looked at these concepts in detail, before investigating some of the repurposed treatments for covid-19 in detail. David provided an overview of the field, before focussing on a project he is involved with that aims to treat acute respiratory distress syndrome – the condition that manifests in the most severely affected covid-19 patients. Rick then wrapped up the session with a series of examples of how repurposing is moving the field of rare disease research forward, and crucially, beginning to drive new treatments to patients.

It was great to be involved in the webinar and provide some meaningful information on both the current global crisis, and its ties to the rare disease community. We hope the increased precedence of repurposing in public consciousness will help to drive its use in the future, and potentially encourage more people to use this approach to meet the unmet need of rare diseases, as well as emerging epidemics like covid-19.

You can catch the full webinar recording on our YouTube channel, so please do check it out now.

Webinar: Evaluating the impact of drug repurposing in rare diseases and covid-19

by Philippa Norman time to read: 4 min