Health Focus: Beyond Veganuary, plus Orphan Drugs for Rare Conditions

Posted on February 2, 2019


The VNutrition app helps you sustain a plant-based diet the whole year round. Plus, drug repurposing and how it provides new treatments for rare diseases.


If you were one of the hordes trying out veganism as part of your new year’s resolutions, the VNutrition app aims to help you extend ‘Veganuary’ into a sustainable lifestyle year-round. The app was launched by The Vegan Society to allow people to track their nutritional needs and continue the transition.

The charity created VNutrition as a handy way to help vegans hit nutritional targets with an easy-to-use checklist and personalised tips. Targeted at new vegans and those trying out veganism, it was developed by in-house dietician Heather Russell.

“The Vegan Society is striving to provide high quality and accessible information about nutrition,” she said. “The app is based on UK guidelines about healthy eating and the best available evidence around vegan nutrition, and we hope it will help a large number of vegans and the vegan-curious.

“Our alliance with the British Dietetic Association shows just how committed we are to providing reliable education about vegan nutrition and sharing the message that well-planned vegan diets can support healthy living in people of all ages.”

VNutrition features information on portion sizes, getting your five-a-day, hitting targets for protein, calcium and omega-3 fat, and using the right supplements. It also has a progress graph plus personalised tips to help users identify areas for improvement.

The app can be downloaded for both Android and iOS now.

Orphan disease 01

Repurposing and Orphan Drugs

Drug repurposing (DRPx) – finding new uses for drugs already on the market – is a technology on the rise. The promise of repurposing is finding treatments for rare diseases using so-called orphan drugs.

Orphan drugs are needed for rare diseases that affect relatively small numbers of people, so treatments must be found outside the normal development cycle of discovery. Finding new drugs is an expensive and time-consuming activity undertaken only by companies with the largest research budgets.

Repurposing is a different kind of drug discovery where commonly-known compounds are found to have the ability to treat orphan diseases, untreatable conditions or other conditions outside of their normal therapeutic range.

Well-known or generic drugs can be found to be the best available treatment in a huge variety of medical conditions. For example, the use of diabetic drug Metformin to treat breast cancer, and as an anti-ageing drug.

DRPx reduces development costs to one twentieth of that for new chemical entitites (NCE) – typically costing more than $1 billion compared to $50 million for repurposed drugs. It reduces the time to market by half, where NCEs take 14 years to commercial release and repurposed drugs take an average of five years. Failure rate is also dramatically reduced from one in every 100,000 NCEs becoming successful drug treatments to three out of 10 for DRPx.

There are other benefits for DRPx such as low regulatory fees, tax credits and subsidies for clinical trials, accelerated approval or assessment and other fast tracking procedures.

Market analysts GlobalData say that approximately one third of all new therapies approved by the US Food and Drug Administration are repurposed pharmaceuticals. Of that about 20 per cent are orphan drugs. Around 25 per cent of all annual pharmaceutical industry revenue now comes from DRPx and the market is expected to grow.

Big pharma recognised the value of repurposing in 2018 by investing $2.3 billion in more than 11 DRPx companies. Advancements in big data analytics, modelling software and high throughput screening techniques are now pushing breakthroughs that will see both pharma companies and patients, especially those with orphan diseases, benefitting directly.