Discovering the anti-cancer potential of non-oncology drugs by systematic viability profiling

Nat Cancer. 2020 Feb;1(2):235-248. doi: 10.1038/s43018-019-0018-6. Epub 2020 Jan 20.


Anti-cancer uses of non-oncology drugs have occasionally been found, but such discoveries have been serendipitous. We sought to create a public resource containing the growth inhibitory activity of 4,518 drugs tested across 578 human cancer cell lines. We used PRISM, a molecular barcoding method, to screen drugs against cell lines in pools. An unexpectedly large number of non-oncology drugs selectively inhibited subsets of cancer cell lines in a manner predictable from the cell lines' molecular features. Our findings include compounds that killed by inducing PDE3A-SLFN12 complex formation; vanadium-containing compounds whose killing depended on the sulfate transporter SLC26A2; the alcohol dependence drug disulfiram, which killed cells with low expression of metallothioneins; and the anti-inflammatory drug tepoxalin, which killed via the multi-drug resistance protein ABCB1. The PRISM drug repurposing resource ( is a starting point to develop new oncology therapeutics, and more rarely, for potential direct clinical translation.