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NIH experiments with crowdsourcing to spur therapeutic development

Drug discovery is time-consuming and expensive, and failure is a strong possibility. To accelerate the therapeutic development process, the National Institutes of Health recently launched a program pairing researchers with a selection of pharmaceutical industry compounds, which proved to be ineffective for the specific use they were developed for, to determine if the drugs are useful in treating other conditions.

Today, the NIH awarded $12.7 million to nine academic research groups to reexamine pharmaceutical industry compounds to treat eight disease areas, including Alzheimer’s disease, Duchenne muscular dystrophy and schizophrenia. Francis Collins, MD, PhD, director of the NIH, wrote on his blog:

With this approach, we are hopeful that we can give these compounds a second chance, while making important discoveries for several diseases.

I am very excited about this pilot program for several reasons. As part of the design of the program, NIH developed template agreements to streamline the legal and administrative process for academic-industry collaboration—and already it’s clear that that strategy is saving months if not years of negotiations. In addition, this is our first experiment with “crowdsourcing” of therapeutic opportunities—giving the entire biomedical community access to highly active compounds and related data, and enabling anyone to make new connections to disease. I expect this model to yield some great science, and I’m optimistic it will also speed the development of new drugs to patients.

Previously: Why drug development is time consuming and expensive (hint: it’s hard)
Photo by Ano Lobb

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