Drug repositioning for orphan diseases

Brief Bioinform. 2011 Jul;12(4):346-56. doi: 10.1093/bib/bbr021. Epub 2011 Apr 18.


The need and opportunity to discover therapeutics for rare or orphan diseases are enormous. Due to limited prevalence and/or commercial potential, of the approximately 6000 orphan diseases (defined by the FDA Orphan Drug Act as <200 000 US prevalence), only a small fraction (5%) is of interest to the biopharmaceutical industry. The fact that drug development is complicated, time-consuming and expensive with extremely low success rates only adds to the low rate of therapeutics available for orphan diseases. An alternative and efficient strategy to boost the discovery of orphan disease therapeutics is to find connections between an existing drug product and orphan disease. Drug Repositioning or Drug Repurposing--finding a new indication for a drug--is one way to maximize the potential of a drug. The advantages of this approach are manifold, but rational drug repositioning for orphan diseases is not trivial and poses several formidable challenges--pharmacologically and computationally. Most of the repositioned drugs currently in the market are the result of serendipity. One reason the connection between drug candidates and their potential new applications are not identified in an earlier or more systematic fashion is that the underlying mechanism 'connecting' them is either very intricate and unknown or indirect or dispersed and buried in an ever-increasing sea of information, much of which is emerging only recently and therefore is not well organized. In this study, we will review some of these issues and the current methodologies adopted or proposed to overcome them and translate chemical and biological discoveries into safe and effective orphan disease therapeutics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Drug Repositioning*
  • Health Services Needs and Demand
  • Humans
  • Orphan Drug Production*
  • Rare Diseases / drug therapy*
  • United States
  • United States Food and Drug Administration