Prediction of individual response to anticancer therapy: historical and future perspectives

Cell Mol Life Sci. 2015 Feb;72(4):729-57. doi: 10.1007/s00018-014-1772-3. Epub 2014 Nov 12.


Since the introduction of chemotherapy for cancer treatment in the early 20th century considerable efforts have been made to maximize drug efficiency and at the same time minimize side effects. As there is a great interpatient variability in response to chemotherapy, the development of predictive biomarkers is an ambitious aim for the rapidly growing research area of personalized molecular medicine. The individual prediction of response will improve treatment and thus increase survival and life quality of patients. In the past, cell cultures were used as in vitro models to predict in vivo response to chemotherapy. Several in vitro chemosensitivity assays served as tools to measure miscellaneous endpoints such as DNA damage, apoptosis and cytotoxicity or growth inhibition. Twenty years ago, the development of high-throughput technologies, e.g. cDNA microarrays enabled a more detailed analysis of drug responses. Thousands of genes were screened and expression levels were correlated to drug responses. In addition, mutation analysis became more and more important for the prediction of therapeutic success. Today, as research enters the area of -omics technologies, identification of signaling pathways is a tool to understand molecular mechanism underlying drug resistance. Combining new tissue models, e.g. 3D organoid cultures with modern technologies for biomarker discovery will offer new opportunities to identify new drug targets and in parallel predict individual responses to anticancer therapy. In this review, we present different currently used chemosensitivity assays including 2D and 3D cell culture models and several -omics approaches for the discovery of predictive biomarkers. Furthermore, we discuss the potential of these assays and biomarkers to predict the clinical outcome of individual patients and future perspectives.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism
  • Drug Screening Assays, Antitumor
  • Genomics
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Precision Medicine*
  • Proteomics
  • Transplantation, Heterologous


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Biomarkers, Tumor