Finding New Uses for Approved Drugs

Om Perumal, PhD, Professor and Pharmaceutical Sciences Department Head, South Dakota State University

Developing new formulations and therapeutic targets for approved drugs may help treat cancer and other diseases. This is the concept behind the South Dakota State University-led Center for Drug, Disease, and Delivery, which recently received a five-year, $3.9 million award from the South Dakota Research and Commercialization Council.

The center will provide an integrated framework for drug development and build academic, industry, and clinical partnerships to advance these new treatments, according to Director Om Perumal, a professor and head of the university’s Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences.

The center will focus on modifying existing drugs to optimize their biological and delivery properties, identifying new molecular targets for existing drugs, and developing new formulations and delivery systems for existing drugs. It will use a collaborative framework to create intellectual property through interdisciplinary projects and to foster an entrepreneurial mindset to strengthen the state’s biomedical and pharmaceutical workforce. The research will address diseases affecting human and animal health.

Repurposing drugs that have already been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration can shorten the timeline and decrease the costs of bringing new treatments to market, Perumal said. “An estimated 40% of drugs fail during development because the biological and delivery properties of the compounds are not optimal,” he added. “[A drug may work] on cells in a culture dish, but to be absorbed in the human body, it must be water-soluble. Or it may have worked well in the animal studies, but animals and humans metabolize drugs differently.” Modifying such drugs to increase their effectiveness is “like taking an old car and refurbishing it,” Perumal said.

During the next five years, four research projects with high potential for competing for external federal and private funding and developing technologies of interest to industry partners will receive center funding for a maximum of two years. The first project will further develop a targeted therapy designed to reduce the side effects and increase the effectiveness of a commonly used chemotherapy drug in cases of ovarian cancer. A second project responds to the shortage of high-quality, implantable donor corneas by developing a new biomaterial for making corneal implants.

During the center’s third year, a team led by Perumal will advance a drug formulation to prevent and/or treat early-stage breast cancer using a South Dakota Innovation Partners-licensed delivery method. Also, in year three, a team of researchers will work on developing a targeted drug-delivery system to treat metastatic brain cancer.

Besides these lead projects, the center will also provide funding for new interdisciplinary projects by soliciting grant applications from academic and private institutions in the state.

Edited by Gary Cramer