Exploring a Culture of Health: Repurposing Medicine to Help More People



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How can we use medication efficiently to help more people? (Image Credit: Shutterstock/ Steve Cukrov) This post is part of Exploring a Culture of Health, a citizen science series brought to you by Discover Magazine, SciStarter and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, serving as an ally to help Americans work together to build a national Culture of Health that enables everyone to lead healthier lives now and for generations to come. Each year in the U.S. millions of dollars’ worth of useable medication is destroyed. While at the same time one in four working adults cannot afford their medication. It is a confusing and unnecessary contradiction. Fortunately innovative organizations recognize that by recycling or repurposing medication it is possible to limit waste and conserve resources while helping individuals live healthier lives.SIRUM, a California-based online non-profit is bringing excess usable drugs to patients in need. Playfully dubbing itself ‘the Match.com of unused medicine’, SIRUM mediates the transfer of unused, unopened medication from donor organizations such as health facilities, drug manufacturers, and pharmacies to institutes that serve low-income patients.

Each year in the U.S. millions of dollars’ worth of useable medication is destroyed. How can we help? (Image Credit: SIRUM) “Once a donor facility choses a recipient clinic, SIRUM takes care of all the rest—recordkeeping, shipping, tracking, and more,” explains Kiah Williams, co-founder of SIRUM. This efficient system not only improves patient health but helps to lower health care costs by reducing money spent on the manufacturing and purchasing of new drugs. SIRUM’s work got the attention of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) whose financial support is helping SIRUM expand their network and explore how their model might be replicated in other states. “The foundation’s support has helped SIRUM expand its network to 260 medicine donors and enabled us to make over 740 donations in the last one and half years. That amounts to about $1.3 million worth of medication that would have otherwise been destroyed. And we have recently begun a pilot program in Colorado,” says SIRUM co-founder George Wang. Taking a different approach to reuse medication is Cures Within Reach, whose mission is to advance drug and device repurposing. Drug or device repurposing is not such a new idea. When clinicians prescribe medication for off-label use they are in essence repurposing that drug. The practice is more common when clinicians are faced with a disease lacking a prescribed treatment.

Why do we need to repurpose medication? (Image Credit: Cures Within Reach) While off label use is legal, it is not regulated, meaning the beneficial effects of a drug’s off-label use is often not scientifically tested or systematically described. Cures Within Reach changes this by facilitating formal research into drug and device repurposing, particularly for rare diseases. “New treatment research for rare diseases is not a priority for most private companies. It comes down to economics. Development and approval of a new drug can take billions of dollars and years of work. A company isn’t going to be able to recover that investment if the potential user population is so small,” says Dr. Bruce Bloom, President and Chief Science Officer of Cures Within Reach. “However, by focusing on repurposing market drugs, devices or nutraceuticals, we can try to find treatments for patients with overlooked diseases or conditions in a more cost effective and efficient manner.” Cures Within Reach does not conduct or fund the research , but instead helps bring the important stakeholders, clinicians, researchers, and funding institutions together. With support from RWJF, CWR will be streamlining, scaling and globalizing this process with the development on an online platform. The online platform will have two components. One is the Commons, an open participation platform where individuals can openly discuss potential treatments, get feedback on their ideas, organize research and connect with funders. The other component, the Vault, will be a private version of Commons. When there are concerns about intellectual property or research ownership, the Vault will enable users to solicit ideas or post funding opportunities while hammering out the details privately. CWR’s goal is to have a beta version of the platform up by winter and a fully functioning version running by the end of 2015. “By thinking outside the box, SIRUM and Cures Within Reach are bringing treatments to patients who would otherwise go without, whether it’s because they can’t afford the medicine they need, or because it doesn’t yet exist,” says Deborah Bae senior program officer at RWJF. “As we strive to build a Culture of Health, it will be critical to move beyond ‘business as usual’ and explore novel approaches that help us address unmet needs.” Do you have ideas or stories about how to repurpose health? Leave a comment below. *** Interested in opportunities to contribute to health research? Check out these two crowdsourcing projects. Transparency Life Sciences is an open innovation drug company that encourages researchers, clinicians, patients and family members to participate in and improve clinical trial protocols. Researchers and clinicians can propose protocols or suggest alternative uses for stalled pharmaceutical compounds. Patients and families can provide their insight and needs to guide protocol development. Join their network to contribute your expertise, insight and experience. All data is open access. Cure Together is a worldwide health research project to find cures for some of the most painful, prevalent, and chronic conditions. Users anonymously track their own health care data, including medication schedules, symptoms, and treatment plans, and provide it to other participants around the world. By donating their data, citizens can help forward research to understand their bodies, improve treatment policies and clinical research.

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