Clonogenic assay with established human tumour xenografts: correlation of in vitro to in vivo activity as a basis for anticancer drug discovery

Eur J Cancer. 2004 Apr;40(6):802-20. doi: 10.1016/j.ejca.2004.01.009.


Pluripotent cells can be grown in clonogenic assays. The tumour stem-cell fraction, which accounts for <0.4% of the total cells, and which is considered the most relevant cell type in the development of metastases and recurrences, is able to divide and to form colonies in a semisolid matrix (agar or methylcellulose). Major applications of the tumour clonogenic assay (TCA) are chemosensitivity testing of tumours and xenografts, and for assessments within drug discovery programmes. Of critical relevance for the usefulness of the TCA is whether it can predict sensitivity or resistance towards clinically used agents. When we compared the response of human tumours established as xenografts in nude mice in the TCA in vitro to that of the clinical response, 62% of the comparisons for drug sensitivity, and 92% of the comparisons for drug resistance were correct. The same percentage of true/false observations was found when tumours were tested after serial passage in nude mice in the TCA in vitro and their response compared to in vivo activity in corresponding xenografts (60% and 90%, respectively). The highest correct predictive values were, however, found when the clinical response of tumours was compared to their explants established in the nude mouse and treated in vivo. Of 80 comparisons performed, we observed a correct prediction for tumour resistance in 97% and for tumour sensitivity in 90%. In our opinion, the TCA with established human tumour xenografts has an important role in current drug discovery strategies. We therefore included the TCA as secondary assay in our approach to anticancer drug discovery and found that a number of novel agents were active; these are now in advanced preclinical development or clinical trials. Thus, the tumour clonogenic assay has proven predictive value in the chemosensitivity testing of standard and experimental anticancer drugs.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Cell Division
  • Drug Design
  • Hematopoietic Stem Cells / drug effects
  • Humans
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Mice
  • Mice, Nude
  • Neoplasm Metastasis / pathology
  • Neoplasm Transplantation
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Transplantation, Heterologous
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured
  • Tumor Stem Cell Assay / methods*


  • Antineoplastic Agents