Drug has unexpected promise as HIV vaccine

When scientists first started using cyclodextrin in meds as an emulsifier and cinical trials as a control, there were no therapeutic benefit. But after one trial showed the drug could be a therapy for Niemann-Pick Type C (NPC), researchers' interest was piqued. Now, cyclodextrin has been tapped as a possible HIV vaccine.

NPC is a fatal cholesterol-metabolism disorder, and was the disease subject of a 2009 clinical trial. In the trial, mice in the control group, which received cyclodextrin, improved as much as the trial group receiving the original NPC treatment. Now, as an HIV remedy, cyclodextrin works by removing cholesterol from HIV membranes, which eliminates the virus' threat to the immune system. So a group of scientists from Johns Hopkins University and Imperial College in London are developing a vaccine using the glucose compound. Cyclodextrin is also being studied as a treatment for Alzheimer's and Ebola.

Many other drugs have had similar unexpected applications, including HIV treatment AZT (originally tested for cancer) or thalidomide for leprosy and multiple myeloma (although it caused birth defects when used as a morning sickness remedy). Biotech and pharma companies are increasingly looking for new uses for old drugs  as a way to cut costs in R&D.

The NIH has even stepped in, providing a list of approved drugs in the U.S., Europe, Japan and Canada for potential treatment repurposing. "We need to do this more systematically now instead of hoping for serendipity to strike," NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins said, according to The Wall Street Journal.

- read the WSJ post