From known knowns to known unknowns: predicting in vivo drug metabolites

Bioanalysis. 2009 May;1(2):393-414. doi: 10.4155/bio.09.32.


'It is better to be useful than perfect'. This review attempts to critically cover and assess the currently available approaches and tools to answer the crucial question: Is it possible (and if it is, to what extent is it possible) to predict in vivo metabolites and their abundances on the basis of in vitro and preclinical animal studies? In preclinical drug development, it is possible to produce metabolite patterns from a candidate drug by virtual means (i.e., in silico models), but these are not yet validated. However, they may be useful to cover the potential range of metabolites. In vitro metabolite patterns and apparent relative abundances are produced by various in vitro systems employing tissue preparations (mainly liver) and in most cases using liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry analytical techniques for tentative identification. The pattern of the metabolites produced depends on the enzyme source; the most comprehensive source of drug-metabolizing enzymes is cultured human hepatocytes, followed by liver homogenate fortified with appropriate cofactors. For specific purposes, such as the identification of metabolizing enzyme(s), recombinant enzymes can be used. Metabolite data from animal in vitro and in vivo experiments, despite known species differences, may help pinpoint metabolites that are not apparently produced in in vitro human systems, or suggest alternative experimental approaches. The range of metabolites detected provides clues regarding the enzymes attacking the molecule under study. We also discuss established approaches to identify the major enzymes. The last question, regarding reliability and robustness of metabolite extrapolations from in vitro to in vivo, both qualitatively and quantitatively, cannot be easily answered. There are a number of examples in the literature suggesting that extrapolations are generally useful, but there are only a few systematic and comprehensive studies to validate in vitro-in vivo extrapolations. In conclusion, extrapolation from preclinical metabolite data to the in vivo situation is certainly useful, but it is not known to what extent.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biotransformation
  • Chromatography, Liquid
  • Drug Evaluation, Preclinical
  • Hepatocytes / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Liver / metabolism*
  • Mass Spectrometry
  • Metabolome*
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations / blood
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations / metabolism*
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations / urine
  • Pharmacokinetics
  • Software


  • Pharmaceutical Preparations