Awarding-winning molecular biologist Associate Professor Nikola Bowden gives existing cancer drugs new life by combining them in unconventional ways with exciting results. A/Prof Bowden explains that, “using current drugs in new ways is called drug repurposing. We know so much about safety, dosing and side effects of the drugs we already use, it is ideal to also see if they have anti-cancer activity.”
Pink Hope sat down with A/Prof Bowden to discuss the $2.69 million funding her team received in May 2020, from the Australian Government, for the Australian Program for Drug-repurposing for Treatment-resistant Ovarian Cancer. You can view the interview in its entirety here.
What is drug repurposing research and how does it differ to traditional medical research?
Traditional medical research looks at discovering new aspects of Ovarian cancer that wasn’t previously known. As a result, new drugs are developed to specifically target these newly discovered areas. This process takes 20+ years and requires large amounts of funding to take the drug to market and for a patient to finally be treated with the drug.
Drug repurposing takes everything that the medical professionals and scientists already know about Ovarian cancer and screens that information to see if any drugs that we already have could work. This involves looking not only at drugs that we have for cancer but all 9,000 drug compounds that are in existence to treat any disease or any condition.
What are the benefits of drug repurposing?
Drug repurposing is a much quicker process than developing a new drug, it is also a safer process as the drug has already passed through the various stages of trials to prove its efficacy and safety for use on humans.
Dose escalation studies have also already been completed meaning that finding a drug that can be repurposed for use in treatment-resistant Ovarian cancer, or any disease, is quick and highly cost effective. Once identified in the lab, scientists can move directly into clinical trials.
How will the recent funding make a difference to ovarian cancer treatment ?
This is an exciting funding development for the program as most funding applications are based on past results and how successful you have been as a researcher. This funding however, was considered future funding, meaning it was applied for based on what expected outcomes from the program might be.
A/Prof Bowden describes the funding received as “game changing” and will provide substantial support for the large collaborative team, with a diverse range of expertise, working on the program. This includes the development of a 3D computer model of an ovarian cancer tumor that will be used to screen the drugs against.
How quickly could a clinical trial of a repurposed drug be available?
It is hoped and expected that any drug that is discovered within the first 1-2 years of the program, will get to clinical trial prior to the completion of the program, in 5 years’ time. Previous repurposed drugs that A/Prof Bowden discovered in the lab took on average 2.5 years to get to clinical trial stage in the treatment of melanoma cancer.
A/Prof Bowden believes that an ideal outcome by the end of the program would be medical oncologists having a range of post chemotherapy treatment options available for Ovarian cancer patients so that that they no longer have to say, “I’m sorry but we have no other treatment options available for you.”