Risk assessment and mitigation strategies for reactive metabolites in drug discovery and development

Chem Biol Interact. 2011 Jun 30;192(1-2):65-71. doi: 10.1016/j.cbi.2010.11.002. Epub 2010 Nov 11.


Drug toxicity is a leading cause of attrition of candidate drugs during drug development as well as of withdrawal of drugs post-licensing due to adverse drug reactions in man. These adverse drug reactions cause a broad range of clinically severe conditions including both highly reproducible and dose dependent toxicities as well as relatively infrequent and idiosyncratic adverse events. The underlying risk factors can be split into two groups: (1) drug-related and (2) patient-related. The drug-related risk factors include metabolic factors that determine the propensity of a molecule to form toxic reactive metabolites (RMs), and the RM and non-RM mediated mechanisms which cause cell and tissue injury. Patient related risk factors may vary markedly between individuals, and encompass genetic and non-genetic processes, e.g. environmental, that influence the disposition of drugs and their metabolites, the nature of the adverse responses elicited and the resulting biological consequences. We describe a new strategy, which builds upon the strategies used currently within numerous pharmaceutical companies to avoid and minimize RM formation during drug discovery, and that is intended to reduce the likelihood that candidate drugs will cause toxicity in the human population. The new strategy addresses drug-related safety hazards, but not patient-related risk factors. A common target organ of toxicity is the liver and to decrease the likelihood that candidate drugs will cause liver toxicity (both non-idiosyncratic and idiosyncratic), we propose use of an in vitro Hepatic Liability Panel alongside in vitro methods for the detection of RMs. This will enable design and selection of compounds in discovery that have reduced propensity to cause liver toxicity. In vitro Hepatic Liability is assessed using toxicity assays that quantify: CYP 450 dependent and CYP 450 independent cell toxicity; mitochondrial impairment; and inhibition of the Bile Salt Export Pump. Prior to progression into development, a Hepatotoxicity Hazard Matrix combines data from the Hepatic Liability Panel with the Estimated RM Body Burden. The latter is defined as the level of covalent binding of radiolabelled drug to human hepatocyte proteins in vitro adjusted for the predicted human dose. We exemplify the potential value of this approach by consideration of the thiazolidinedione class of drugs.

MeSH terms

  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System / metabolism
  • Drug Discovery*
  • Humans
  • Liver / drug effects
  • Risk Assessment


  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System