Image-based ex-vivo drug screening for patients with aggressive haematological malignancies: interim results from a single-arm, open-label, pilot study

Lancet Haematol. 2017 Dec;4(12):e595-e606. doi: 10.1016/S2352-3026(17)30208-9. Epub 2017 Nov 15.


Background: Patients with refractory or relapsed haematological malignancies have few treatment options and short survival times. Identification of effective therapies with genomic-based precision medicine is hampered by intratumour heterogeneity and incomplete understanding of the contribution of various mutations within specific cancer phenotypes. Ex-vivo drug-response profiling in patient biopsies might aid effective treatment identification; however, proof of its clinical utility is limited.

Methods: We investigated the feasibility and clinical impact of multiparametric, single-cell, drug-response profiling in patient biopsies by immunofluorescence, automated microscopy, and image analysis, an approach we call pharmacoscopy. First, the ability of pharmacoscopy to separate responders from non-responders was evaluated retrospectively for a cohort of 20 newly diagnosed and previously untreated patients with acute myeloid leukaemia. Next, 48 patients with aggressive haematological malignancies were prospectively evaluated for pharmacoscopy-guided treatment, of whom 17 could receive the treatment. The primary endpoint was progression-free survival in pharmacoscopy-treated patients, as compared with their own progression-free survival for the most recent regimen on which they had progressive disease. This trial is ongoing and registered with, number NCT03096821.

Findings: Pharmacoscopy retrospectively predicted the clinical response of 20 acute myeloid leukaemia patients to initial therapy with 88·1% accuracy. In this interim analysis, 15 (88%) of 17 patients receiving pharmacoscopy-guided treatment had an overall response compared with four (24%) of 17 patients with their most recent regimen (odds ratio 24·38 [95% CI 3·99-125·4], p=0·0013). 12 (71%) of 17 patients had a progression-free survival ratio of 1·3 or higher, and median progression-free survival increased by four times, from 5·7 (95% CI 4·1-12·1) weeks to 22·6 (7·4-34·0) weeks (hazard ratio 3·14 [95% CI 1·37-7·22], p=0·0075).

Interpretation: Routine clinical integration of pharmacoscopy for treatment selection is technically feasible, and led to improved treatment of patients with aggressive refractory haematological malignancies in an initial patient cohort, warranting further investigation.

Funding: Austrian Academy of Sciences; European Research Council; Austrian Science Fund; Austrian Federal Ministry of Science, Research and Economy; National Foundation for Research, Technology and Development; Anniversary Fund of the Austrian National Bank; MPN Research Foundation; European Molecular Biology Organization; and Swiss National Science Foundation.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adenine / analogs & derivatives
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Area Under Curve
  • Bone Marrow / pathology
  • Bortezomib / therapeutic use
  • Cladribine / therapeutic use
  • Disease-Free Survival
  • Female
  • Hematologic Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging
  • Hematologic Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Hematologic Neoplasms / mortality
  • Hematologic Neoplasms / pathology
  • Humans
  • Kaplan-Meier Estimate
  • Leukemia, Myeloid, Acute / drug therapy
  • Male
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Middle Aged
  • Odds Ratio
  • Pilot Projects
  • Piperidines
  • Positron Emission Tomography Computed Tomography
  • Pyrazoles / therapeutic use
  • Pyrimidines / therapeutic use
  • ROC Curve
  • Remission Induction
  • Young Adult


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Piperidines
  • Pyrazoles
  • Pyrimidines
  • ibrutinib
  • Cladribine
  • Bortezomib
  • Adenine

Associated data