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Discovering New Therapeutic Uses for Existing Compounds

May 3, 2012
Washington, D.C.

When we look back over recent history, we see that biomedical research is responsible for some of our greatest progress, from the discovery of penicillin to the development of effective therapies for cancer. Diseases that had once been a death sentence have been eradicated or cured. Conditions that had once been disabling are now manageable.

These achievements have not only saved the lives and improved the health of millions. They have also sparked enormous economic growth and created countless new jobs.

At the beginning of a new century, we can see even bigger opportunities ahead. Last week, at the White House, I helped introduce our nation’s first-ever Bioeconomy Blueprint -- this administration’s commitment to strengthening bioscience research as a major driver of American innovation and economic growth.

And keeping America on the forefront of the search for new cures and treatments is fundamental to achieving that vision.

Yet the road from the research lab to an approved and marketable drug is a long one. And today there are many detours and obstacles along the way. It can take many years and hundreds of millions of dollars to bring one new drug from discovery to the marketplace, and most new projects fail in the early stages.

If we want to find the cures of the 21st Century, we need to chart a clear path forward. And that is why this administration has undertaken a major effort to identify and remove roadblocks at every stage of the development process.

Last December, we took a big step forward with the creation of NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS). The Center’s mission is to develop the tools and approaches we need to help everyone searching for new cures to move forward faster.

One of the Center’s early priorities has been to take advantage of the many pharmaceutical-industry compounds that were originally developed and tested for one particular purpose, but ultimately not approved. What we know is that many of these compounds may have other potential uses. We just need to do the research to identify them.

The drug AZT, for example, was originally tested against cancer and failed. Only later was it discovered to be an effective treatment for HIV -- the first medicine we found to work against the virus. And Michael, who is with us here today, will talk about what that discovery has meant for him.

In the search for new cures and treatments, these compounds offer a big advantage over those still being developed in the lab. They have already cleared many of the early clinical and regulatory hurdles, allowing researchers to identify new therapies more quickly -- and allowing companies to bring them to market more efficiently.

And yet, many of these compounds have not been re-evaluated. Or, if they are re-evaluated, that research is typically conducted through traditional partnerships of very limited size and scope.

But today that is changing.

I am proud to announce a new collaborative program that will allow far more researchers to study pharmaceutical-industry compounds and pursue vital new treatments for patients.

Our goal is simple: to see whether we can teach old drugs new tricks. And to get there, we are taking an innovative approach: crowd-sourcing these compounds to our brightest minds and most inventive companies.

Under the initiative we are launching today, any researcher with a promising scientific idea can apply for a new grant to test compounds from our partners against a variety of diseases and conditions.

Through the program, the National Institutes of Health intend to provide at least $20 million in Fiscal Year 2013 to support the grants. And for their part, the companies will provide researchers with access to the compounds and all related data.

This new kind of partnership is an investment -- not only in our researchers, but in our nation.

Because, when America’s scientists have the tools and the resources to pursue the next great discoveries, we all benefit. It makes our nation stronger, healthier, and more competitive.

And now, I’d like to introduce a critical leader in that partnership: the Director of our National Institutes of Health, Dr. Francis Collins.