Repurposing Generic Drugs to Combat Cancer

Authors: Laura Kleiman and Shruthi Bhimaraju


Cancer patients urgently need more effective treatments that are accessible to everyone. This year alone, an estimated 1.9 million people in the United States will receive new cancer diagnoses, and cancer will kill more than 600,000 Americans. Yet there are no targeted therapeutics for many cancers, and the treatments that do exist can be prohibitively scarce or expensive.

Repurposing existing drugs, especially off-patent generics, is the fastest way to develop new treatments. Hundreds of non-cancer generic drugs have already been tested by researchers and physicians in preclinical and clinical studies for cancer, some up to Phase II trials, and show intriguing promise. But due to a market failure, there is a lack of funding for clinical trials that evaluate generic drugs. This means that there isn’t conclusive evidence of the efficacy and safety of repurposed generics for treating cancer, and so cancer patients who desperately need more (and more affordable) treatment options are unable to realize the benefits that existing generics might offer.

To quickly and affordably improve the lives of cancer patients, the Biden-Harris Administration should create the Repurposing Generics Grant Program through the National Cancer Institute. This program would fund definitive clinical trials evaluating repurposed generic drugs for cancer. A key first step would be for President Biden to include this program in his FY2022 budget proposal. Congress could then authorize the program and related appropriations totaling $100 million over 5 years.

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About the Authors

Laura Kleiman is the Founder and CEO of Reboot Rx, the tech nonprofit startup dedicated to saving the lives of cancer patients with repurposed generic drugs. Reboot Rx is building AI technology to rapidly review the extraordinary amount of data on generics and identify the most promising drugs for repurposing. By bringing together stakeholders, Reboot Rx is developing new models for funding clinical trials and for incorporating generics into the standard of care for cancer patients.

Laura’s career has focused on building collaborations across disciplines and sectors to expand treatment options for cancer patients. She was previously Scientific Research Director in the Department of Data Sciences at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Laura earned a Ph.D. in Computational and Systems Biology from MIT and conducted translational cancer research as an American Cancer Society Postdoctoral Fellow at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. She was recently featured in Forbes and received the 40 Under 40 in Cancer Award.

Shruthi Bhimaraju is a student at the University of Virginia studying the health sciences and public health. To improve the quality of care for diverse patient populations, she explores the intersection between health policy and social entrepreneurship. As such, she aids the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network in their mission to lobby for impactful policies and provides cancer education resources to communities across the country. As a Health Policy Researcher at Reboot Rx, Shruthi studies new funding models to help fast-track the development of more affordable cancer treatments. While her clinical experiences fuel her aspirations for a medical career, her ultimate goal is to use her voice to reform the healthcare system to be more equitable.