Quantitative methods for assessing drug synergism

Genes Cancer. 2011 Nov;2(11):1003-8. doi: 10.1177/1947601912440575.


Two or more drugs that individually produce overtly similar effects will sometimes display greatly enhanced effects when given in combination. When the combined effect is greater than that predicted by their individual potencies, the combination is said to be synergistic. A synergistic interaction allows the use of lower doses of the combination constituents, a situation that may reduce adverse reactions. Drug combinations are quite common in the treatment of cancers, infections, pain, and many other diseases and situations. The determination of synergism is a quantitative pursuit that involves a rigorous demonstration that the combination effect is greater than that which is expected from the individual drug's potencies. The basis of that demonstration is the concept of dose equivalence, which is discussed here and applied to an experimental design and data analysis known as isobolographic analysis. That method, and a related method of analysis that also uses dose equivalence, are presented in this brief review, which provides the mathematical basis for assessing synergy and an optimization strategy for determining the dose combination.

Keywords: additivity; dose-effect relation; drug combinations; isoboles; optimal dose strategy; subadditivity; synergism.