An Alzheimer’s Treatment in Your Medicine Cabinet?

By Howard Fillit, MD, and Diana Shineman, PhD

The New York Times' recent Op-Ed (“A Cancer Treatment in Your Medicine Cabinet?,” May 19) highlights that—while it is possible that aspirin could benefit breast cancer patients—there have been no randomized trials testing this hypothesis because “no one stands to make money off aspirin.”

These challenges also apply to many other prevalent diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease. Drugs already on the market today may benefit Alzheimer’s patients, a process called “repurposing,” but the barriers to investment in the necessary clinical research trials are considerable.

We can specifically address barriers to repurposing research by increasing funding from government and foundations; building innovative public-private partnerships for repurposing; instituting changes in patent law related to repurposed drugs with new indications; addressing roadblocks in the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) review and approval process; and creating innovative royalty structures to provide financial incentives to justify the cost of testing old drugs for a new disease.

Effective treatments for common chronic diseases like Alzheimer’s may be locked in drugs already on the market and approved for other diseases. The opportunities clearly exist, but cannot be capitalized on until we address these challenges and ensure that the necessary clinical trials are conducted and expedited.