Preclinical pharmacokinetics: an approach towards safer and efficacious drugs

Curr Drug Metab. 2006 Feb;7(2):165-82. doi: 10.2174/138920006775541552.


Lack of efficacy and toxicity are considered to be major reasons for drug failures and pharmacokinetics governs them to a large extent. Compound with favorable pharmacokinetics is more likely to be efficacious and safe. Therefore, the preclinical pharmacokinetic evaluation should be comprehensive enough to ensure that compounds do not fail in the clinic. Preclinical ADME screening facilitates early elimination of weak candidates and directs the entire focus of the drug development program towards fewer potential lead candidates. Hence, it is mandatory that the pre-clinical candidates are subjected to as many possible reality checks. Reliance on in-vitro tests should be minimized because they do not represent the real physiological environment but rather slow down the pace of a drug discovery program. Compounds can be straight away subjected to in-vivo high throughput screens such as cassette dosing, cassette analysis or rapid rat screen etc. Candidates with the desired in-vivo pharmacokinetic profile may be further profiled in-vitro, using assays such as metabolic stability, reaction phenotyping, CYP-450 inhibition and induction, plasma protein binding etc. in human microsomes, human recombinant CYP-450 enzymes and human plasma. This also provides an early indication of whether the compound which worked in animals would work in human as well. In-vitro metabolic stability profile is a qualitative as well as quantitative comparison of metabolism of a compound in human and animal models. It helps in identifying the right model for toxicity studies. Extensive metabolism is generally considered a liability as it limits the systemic exposure and shortens the half-life of a compound. Several strategies such as reduction of lipophilicity, modification and / or blocking of metabolically soft spots and use of enzyme inhibitors; have been developed to combat metabolism. In spite of several concerns, the fact that active metabolites of several marketed drugs have been developed as drugs with better efficacy, safety and pharmacokinetics profile; cannot be denied. Therefore, instead of considering metabolic instability a liability it can be exploited as a tool for discovering better drugs. It is equally important to identify the metabolic pathways of the drug candidates by conducting in-vitro CYP450 reaction phenotyping assays. The identification of drug metabolizing enzymes involved in the major metabolic pathways of a compound helps in predicting the probable drug-drug interactions in human. Compounds with more than one metabolic pathway have less likelihood of clinically significant drug interactions. In-vitro CYP450 inhibition and induction screens are used to evaluate the potential of compound towards drug - drug interactions and the most prone candidates may either be discarded or taken ahead with a caution. It is known that only unbound drug is pharmacologically active and therefore the assessment of bound fraction by the estimation of plasma protein binding of a compound is another important parameter to be explored in-vitro. In addition to the process of 'weeding out' weak candidates early in the drug discovery process, it is equally important to identify the probable causes of poor ADME exhibited by some compounds as this information is useful to medicinal chemists for improving upon backbones that exhibit un favorable pharmacokinetic profile. Toxicity study is the foundation of an INDA (Investigational new drug application) and therefore, the final selection of a compound can be performed only after proper toxicological evaluation in animal models. Toxicokinetics forms an integral part of toxicity study and is used to assess the exposure of candidates in toxicity models and correlate the drug levels in blood and various tissues with the toxicological findings. Although in-vivo screening of compounds in animal models and in-vitro assays in human recombinant CYP-450 enzymes help in drug candidate selection, both approaches have their own limitations. There is no certainty that the selected candidates will exhibit the desired target PK profile in human and real human PK remains suspense until the compound enters Phase-1 clinical trial. The recognition of human micro dosing, (HMD) by medicines and healthcare products regulatory agency (MHRA) and European agency for evaluation of medicinal products [EMEA] is a stepping stone in the direction of obtaining human PK data early in the preclinical stage. This would gradually shift the focus of early drug development away from animal studies directly towards safe and ethical studies in human yielding more relevant and reliable pharmacokinetic data. HMD would provide an answer to the growing public demand for a reduction in the use of animals for pharmaceutical development.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Drug Evaluation, Preclinical
  • Drug Interactions
  • Drug-Related Side Effects and Adverse Reactions*
  • Genetics
  • Humans
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations / administration & dosage
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations / metabolism*
  • Pharmacokinetics*
  • Pregnane X Receptor
  • Rats
  • Receptors, Cytoplasmic and Nuclear / genetics
  • Receptors, Cytoplasmic and Nuclear / metabolism
  • Receptors, Steroid / genetics
  • Receptors, Steroid / metabolism
  • Species Specificity


  • Pharmaceutical Preparations
  • Pregnane X Receptor
  • Receptors, Cytoplasmic and Nuclear
  • Receptors, Steroid