Exploring new uses for existing drugs: innovative mechanisms to fund independent clinical research

Trials. 2021 May 4;22(1):322. doi: 10.1186/s13063-021-05273-x.


Background: Finding new therapeutic uses for existing medicines could lead to safe, affordable and timely new treatment options for patients with high medical needs. However, due to a lack of economic incentives, pharmaceutical developers are rarely interested to invest in research with approved medicines, especially when they are out of basic patent or regulatory protection. Consequently, potential new uses for these medicines are mainly studied in independent clinical trials initiated and led by researchers from academia, research institutes, or collaborative groups. Yet, additional financial support is needed to conduct expensive phase III clinical trials to confirm the results from exploratory research.

Methods: In this study, scientific and grey literature was searched to identify and evaluate new mechanisms for funding clinical trials with repurposed medicines. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 16 European stakeholders with expertise in clinical research, funding mechanisms and/or drug repurposing between November 2018 and February 2019 to consider the future perspectives of applying new funding mechanisms.

Results: Traditional grant funding awarded by government and philanthropic organisations or companies is well known and widely implemented in all research fields. In contrast, only little research has focused on the application potential of newer mechanisms to fund independent clinical research, such as social impact bonds, crowdfunding or public-private partnerships. Interviewees stated that there is a substantial need for additional financial support in health research, especially in areas where there is limited commercial interest. However, the implementation of new funding mechanisms is facing several practical and financial challenges, such as a lack of expertise and guidelines, high transaction costs and difficulties to measure health outcomes. Furthermore, interviewees highlighted the need for increased collaboration and centralisation at a European and international level to make clinical research more efficient and reduce the need for additional funding.

Conclusions: New funding mechanisms to support clinical research may become more important in the future but the unresolved issues identified in the current study warrant further exploration.

Keywords: Clinical research; Crowdfunding; Drug repurposing; Public-private partnerships; Research funding; Social impact bonds.

MeSH terms

  • Financial Management*
  • Humans
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations*
  • Public-Private Sector Partnerships


  • Pharmaceutical Preparations