Micropharmacology: An In Silico Approach for Assessing Drug Efficacy Within a Tumor Tissue

Bull Math Biol. 2019 Sep;81(9):3623-3641. doi: 10.1007/s11538-018-0402-x. Epub 2018 Feb 8.


Systemic chemotherapy is one of the main anticancer treatments used for most kinds of clinically diagnosed tumors. However, the efficacy of these drugs can be hampered by the physical attributes of the tumor tissue, such as tortuous vasculature, dense and fibrous extracellular matrix, irregular cellular architecture, tumor metabolic gradients, and non-uniform expression of the cell membrane receptors. This can impede the transport of therapeutic agents to tumor cells in sufficient quantities. In addition, tumor microenvironments undergo dynamic spatio-temporal changes during tumor progression and treatment, which can also obstruct drug efficacy. To examine ways to improve drug delivery on a cell-to-tissue scale (single-cell pharmacology), we developed the microscale pharmacokinetics/pharmacodynamics (microPKPD) modeling framework. Our model is modular and can be adjusted to include only the mathematical equations that are crucial for a biological problem under consideration. This modularity makes the model applicable to a broad range of pharmacological cases. As an illustration, we present two specific applications of the microPKPD methodology that help to identify optimal drug properties. The hypoxia-activated drugs example uses continuous drug concentrations, diffusive-advective transport through the tumor interstitium, and passive transmembrane drug uptake. The targeted therapy example represents drug molecules as discrete particles that move by diffusion and actively bind to cell receptors. The proposed modeling approach takes into account the explicit tumor tissue morphology, its metabolic landscape and/or specific receptor distribution. All these tumor attributes can be assessed from patients' diagnostic biopsies; thus, the proposed methodology can be developed into a tool suitable for personalized medicine, such as neoadjuvant chemotherapy.

Keywords: Drug penetration; Hypoxia-activated pro-drugs; Single-cell pharmacology; Targeted therapeutics; Tumor tissue architecture; microPKPD.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacokinetics*
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Biological Transport, Active
  • Computer Simulation
  • Drug Delivery Systems
  • Humans
  • Ligands
  • Mathematical Concepts
  • Models, Biological*
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / drug effects
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / metabolism
  • Single-Cell Analysis
  • Spatio-Temporal Analysis
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Tumor Microenvironment / drug effects*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Ligands
  • Receptors, Cell Surface