An algorithm designed by US scientists to trawl through a plethora of drug interactions has yielded thousands of previously unknown side effects caused by taking drugs in combination.
The work, published today in Science Translational Medicine1, provides a way to sort through the hundreds of thousands of ‘adverse events’ reported to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) each year. “It’s a step in the direction of a complete catalogue of drug–drug interactions,” says the study’s lead author, Russ Altman, a bioengineer at Stanford University in California.
Although clinical trials are often designed to assess the safety of a drug in addition to how well it works, the size of the trials needed to detect the full range of drug interactions would surpass even the large, late-stage clinical trials sometimes required for drug approval. Furthermore, clinical trials are often done in controlled settings, using carefully defined criteria to determine which patients are eligible for enrolment — including other conditions they might have and which medicines they can take alongside the trial drug.