The side-effects of drugs can be explored to uncover new uses for a medicine, scientists have found.
The technique is based on the premise that drugs which produce similar side-effects act on the same biological molecules.
Researchers at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg, Germany, developed a way of using this rule to predict the common targets of different drugs.
Dr Peer Bork, from the EMBL’s Structural and Computational Biology Unit, said: “Such a correlation not only reveals the molecular basis of many side-effects, but also bears a powerful therapeutic potential. It hints at new uses of marketed drugs in the treatment of diseases they were not specifically developed for.”
An example of a medicine given a new use by a side-effect is the anti-impotence drug Viagra, which started out as a treatment for angina – the pain caused by too little blood reaching the heart.
It was only when doctors spotted the effect the drug had on erections that its true potential was realised.
Finding new uses for already marketed drugs is much faster than developing newly discovered medicines, which can take 15 years.
“With some more tests and refinement our method could in future be applied on a bigger scale,” said Dr Bork, whose research appears in the journal Science.
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