Roche, Broad band together to bring failed drugs back from the dead

Roche is giving failed compounds from the past 20 years of its research a new shot at blockbuster glory. The Swiss drug giant ($RHHBY) has agreed to let the Broad Institute screen more than 300 compounds that fell from grace during development at Roche for potential new uses. The drugmaker is one of the latest in a series of pharma outfits to try out repurposing--or what is sometimes called drug recycling--in search of potentially speedy ways to bring new therapies to market.

The Broad Institute, which houses top scientists from MIT and Harvard, plans to use a set of biological assays to test the compounds, dubbed the Roche Repurposing Compound Collection, in hopes of finding new therapeutic uses. In some cases, the Roche molecules fizzled in Phase II trials. Presumably, those compounds passed initial safety tests, meaning that renewed development for a new use might not require as much lengthy (and expensive) study as a never-before-trialed drug.

"Roche is interested in pursuing development of these compounds for new indications," Darien Wilson, a spokeswoman for Roche, told FierceBiotech in an email. "In addition, it is important to note, that the agreement does not limit other companies' ability to negotiate access to Broad Institute's screening facilities or to the Roche Repurposing Compound Collection."

Wilson added: "All therapeutic areas that have been pursued by Roche over the last 20 years: cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, inflammation, neuroscience, oncology, and virology, have contributed assets for this collaboration."

Drugmakers have found completely new uses for drugs for decades, as was the case when Pfizer ($PFE) transformed a failed heart drug into the erectile dysfunction blockbuster Viagra after observing a side effect of the treatment that aided men's sex lives. Yet new assays and screening methods promise to make drug repurposing or repositioning less of a serendipitous affair. And pharma outfits are willing to try anything within reason for a new multibillion-dollar drug, even if the companies have to dive into their proverbial dumpsters for the goods.

"Over the last 20 years of drug discovery we have created many drug candidates that did not make it to market," Karen Lackey, head of medicinal chemistry at Roche, said in a release. "By compiling these compounds into an annotated set and collaborating with the Broad Institute to put to use its technologies and disease expertise, we hope to discover ways to repurpose these compounds that will be beneficial for patients."

With the Broad deal, Roche joins the ranks of AstraZeneca ($AZN) and other drugmakers that are testing drug repositioning. In the case of AstraZeneca, the London-based pharma group shipped 22 failed compounds to researchers in a deal with the Medical Research Council, The Guardian reported.

NIH Director Francis Collins has been a strong proponent of repurposing old drugs, including many that are off-patent, as a less expensive way to address big unmet clinical needs. For drugs that have safety data, developers can trim millions of dollars from program costs. And it could be the right thing to do for patients.

- here's the release
- see the Guardian's article

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