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New areas of application for existing drugs

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Medicines are usually approved for the treatment of a specific disease. However, other areas of application often emerge later. In order to make the so-called repurposing more efficient, a comprehensive networking platform is to be set up as part of an EU project. CSSB Scientific Director Prof. Dr. Kay Grünewald (UHH, LIV) and his Universität Hamburg colleague Prof. Dr Jan Baumbach and their teams are involved in the project.

The repurposing of drugs is already a common phenomenon today: an active ingredient is approved and later proves to be highly effective against other diseases. In many cases, even explicitly known drugs are tested for their effectiveness against other diseases, for example in the search for a drug against the coronavirus. Advantages include the fact that the active substances have already been tested for tolerability and that production or procurement is also easier.

The participants in the project "Precision drug repurposing for Europe and the world" (REPO4EU) want to make the process of finding new active substance application possibilities more efficient and easier by networking experimental, novel data-analytical and clinical approaches. Prof. Dr. Jan Baumbach and Prof. Dr. Kay Grünewald from the Universität Hamburg are involved in the large-scale project and will receive a total of approximately 970,000 euros for their research as part of the project.

The UHH projects in detail

Jan Baumbach is Professor of Computational Systems Biology at the Department of Computer Science at the Universität Hamburg. Together with his research group, he will primarily work on the technical design of the RePo4EU platform. This is because the scientists have already designed numerous applications for biomedical informatics. These have involved, for example, the analysis and visualisation of data, the identification of important markers for therapeutic decision-making based on artificial intelligence and machine learning, or the integration of so-called multi-omics data - i.e. on the genome, the microbiome, the epigenome - into biomolecular networks. In the Repo4EU project, an important focus will be on data-based and computer simulation-based repurposing of drugs.

Prof. Dr. Kay Grünewald heads the research group "Structural Cell Biology of Viruses" at the Centre for Structural Systems Biology (CSSB). The researchers pursue an integrative structural biology approach, combining their expertise in cryo-electron microscopy and cryo-electron tomography with complementary approaches. This allows them to investigate at the molecular level how viruses and their hosts interact with each other and what fundamental mechanisms account for the relationship between structure and function of the molecules. In the REPO4EU consortium, the research group will mainly work on confirming the possibilities of drug repurposing predicted by computer methods in practice. The focus of the analyses will be on effects in cellular infections with herpes viruses, as these models are very relevant for medical applications.

28 institutions, ten countries, 23 million euros

Over the next seven years, Baumbach and Grünewald will work with colleagues from 28 institutions and ten countries to build this comprehensive EU-wide infrastructure for drug repurposing. The project, funded under the EU's Horizon programme, will receive a total of almost 23 million euros. The aim is not only to create a database on existing medicines and active substances, but also a network of experts on all steps of the drug approval process.

Text: Original written by A. Priebe (UHH), translated by F. Ahr