A group of U.S. researchers hoping to identify already approved medications to repurpose as Alzheimer’s disease treatments has won a $2.8 million, five-year grant from the National Institute on Aging, a division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The study will be led by scientists at Ohio’s Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. The group recently launched a computer program called DrugPredict that links medication characteristics with data on how a treatment might affect disease-associated factors. DrugPredict has already identified new uses for old drugs.
The grant money will help researchers will develop computer algorithms that search medication databases to identify potential candidate medications that have already won approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Their suitability to be repurposed will then be tested using data from patient electronic medical records and Alzheimer’s mouse models.
“We will use DrugPredict, but the scope of this project is much more ambitious,” Dr. Rong Xu, the project’s principal investigator and an associate professor of biomedical informatics at Case Western, said in a press release.
Using the new algorithms, the team will build a new, publicly available database of potential treatment candidates to repurpose. It will especially focus on compounds that cross the blood-brain barrier. This barrier — which protects the brain from microbes and excessive immune responses — prevents most drugs from entering the brain, hampering the development of treatments for Alzheimer’s.
“Finding drugs that can pass the blood-brain barrier is the ‘holy grail’ for neurological drug discovery,” said Xu. “With this award, we will develop novel machine-learning and artificial intelligence algorithms to predict whether chemicals can pass the blood-brain barrier and whether they may be effective in treating Alzheimer’s disease.”
In addition to Xu, the team includes Dr. XiaoFeng Zhu, Case Western professor of population and quantitative health sciences, and Dr. David Kaelber, chief medical informatics officer at MetroHealth. Also involved is Dr. Riqiang Yan, vice chair of neurosciences at Cleveland Clinic’s Lerner Research Institute. Yan is a co-principal investigator on the project.
The idea is that the mouse studies will eventually lead to treatments that can be tested in humans.
“The unique and powerful strength of our project is our ability to seamlessly combine novel computational predictions, clinical corroboration, and experimental testing,” Xu said. “This approach allows us to rapidly identify innovative drug candidates that may work in real-world Alzheimer’s disease patients. We anticipate the findings could then be expeditiously translated into clinical trials.”