Pharmacology-based toxicity assessment: towards quantitative risk prediction in humans

Mutagenesis. 2016 May;31(3):359-74. doi: 10.1093/mutage/gev081. Epub 2016 Mar 12.


Despite ongoing efforts to better understand the mechanisms underlying safety and toxicity, ~30% of the attrition in drug discovery and development is still due to safety concerns. Changes in current practice regarding the assessment of safety and toxicity are required to reduce late stage attrition and enable effective development of novel medicines. This review focuses on the implications of empirical evidence generation for the evaluation of safety and toxicity during drug development. A shift in paradigm is needed to (i) ensure that pharmacological concepts are incorporated into the evaluation of safety and toxicity; (ii) facilitate the integration of historical evidence and thereby the translation of findings across species as well as between in vitro and in vivo experiments and (iii) promote the use of experimental protocols tailored to address specific safety and toxicity questions. Based on historical examples, we highlight the challenges for the early characterisation of the safety profile of a new molecule and discuss how model-based methodologies can be applied for the design and analysis of experimental protocols. Issues relative to the scientific rationale are categorised and presented as a hierarchical tree describing the decision-making process. Focus is given to four different areas, namely, optimisation, translation, analytical construct and decision criteria. From a methodological perspective, the relevance of quantitative methods for estimation and extrapolation of risk from toxicology and safety pharmacology experimental protocols, such as points of departure and potency, is discussed in light of advancements in population and Bayesian modelling techniques (e.g. non-linear mixed effects modelling). Their use in the evaluation of pharmacokinetics (PK) and pharmacokinetic-pharmacodynamic relationships (PKPD) has enabled great insight into the dose rationale for medicines in humans, both in terms of efficacy and adverse events. Comparable benefits can be anticipated for the assessment of safety and toxicity profile of novel molecules.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bayes Theorem
  • Drug Discovery / methods*
  • Drug-Related Side Effects and Adverse Reactions*
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Pharmacokinetics
  • Risk Assessment / methods*
  • Toxicology