Three of the world's largest drug manufacturers are going to empty out their closets and turn over research on unsuccessful drugs to the National Institutes of Health. The idea is that federally funded researchers can take what's there and perhaps find another ailment the drug will work on.
Pfizer ($PFE), Eli Lilly ($LLY) and AstraZeneca ($AZN) will release more research on more than 20 drugs to NIH, which will turn it over to researchers at universities and hospitals.
NIH Director Francis S. Collins points out that AIDS treatment AZT began as a cancer drug, while Raloxifene was developed for treating osteoporosis but ended up as a breast cancer drug.
The agency has $20 million to jump-start the project, which is set to begin in October. Nobody is saying what abandoned drugs are being exchanged, but officials see great promise in the project.
Lilly's executive vice president for science and technology, Jan M. Lundberg, tells The Wall Street Journal that the company is releasing drugs on which there has already been significant work. "If you compare this to a relay, you are starting as person three out of four," she said.
The NIH expects others will follow the lead of Pfizer, Lilly and AstraZeneca. And as Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said to The Associated Press, the effort is to "see whether we can teach old drugs new tricks."