News Release

New database could accelerate drug repurposing for various diseases

The new database may help scientists assess potential drugs more quickly, including how they are metabolised by the body and their potential side effects.

Peer-Reviewed Publication


Researchers have created a new open-access database of information on drug candidates and how they are metabolised by the body, which could help speed up the repurposing of old drugs as new treatments.

There is an urgent need for more effective treatments for many conditions, including COVID-19, cancer and malaria. But the process of developing new drugs is costly, can take decades, and often leads to failed treatments. The database, called and described today in eLife, may help expedite the process by helping scientists find promising, existing drugs that might be repurposed for these diseases.

“By finding a way to improve how we discover and design new drugs, we could reduce the time and costs involved in the drug-development process,” says lead author Homa Mohammadi Peyhani, Postdoctoral Researcher at the Laboratory of Computational Systems Biotechnology, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Switzerland.

To help, Peyhani and colleagues created the database with information on 250,000 potential drug molecules. The database includes detailed analysis of the drugs’ structures, the enzymes they target, how they are likely to be altered by human metabolism, and their potential side effects.

Using their database, the team showed that it could accurately predict the behaviour of drug-enzyme pairs around 70% of the time, and that it was 100% accurate for half of the pairs tested. 

They then used the system to look for drugs that could be repurposed for cancer, high cholesterol, malaria and COVID-19. Their search yielded some clues on how scientists might alleviate the toxic side effects of the cancer drug 5-fluorouracil. They also identified shikimate 3-phospate as a potential drug to treat the liver stage of malaria with fewer side effects. And they identified over 1,300 potential anti-COVID-19 drugs, including some that are already safely used to treat a number of other conditions. Further studies are now necessary to validate that these drugs can be repurposed for this disease.

The researchers have made the database available for others as an open-access resource. In addition to helping find new purposes for existing drugs, the system may help scientists understand why some drugs cause harmful side effects and either identify ways to alleviate them or explore alternative drugs.

“Our hope is that scientists and decision makers in the pharmaceutical industry alike can use this unique database to better inform their research and clinical decisions – saving time, money and ultimately lives,” concludes senior author Vassily Hatzimanikatis, Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering at EPFL.


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About eLife

eLife is a non-profit organisation created by funders and led by researchers. Our mission is to accelerate discovery by operating a platform for research communication that encourages and recognises the most responsible behaviours. We aim to publish work of the highest standards and importance in all areas of biology and medicine, including Computational and Systems Biology, and Medicine, while exploring creative new ways to improve how research is assessed and published. eLife receives financial support and strategic guidance from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, the Max Planck Society and Wellcome. Learn more at

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