Antisense technology: an overview and prospectus

Nat Rev Drug Discov. 2021 Jun;20(6):427-453. doi: 10.1038/s41573-021-00162-z. Epub 2021 Mar 24.


Antisense technology is now beginning to deliver on its promise to treat diseases by targeting RNA. Nine single-stranded antisense oligonucleotide (ASO) drugs representing four chemical classes, two mechanisms of action and four routes of administration have been approved for commercial use, including the first RNA-targeted drug to be a major commercial success, nusinersen. Although all the approved drugs are for use in patients with rare diseases, many of the ASOs in late- and middle-stage clinical development are intended to treat patients with very common diseases. ASOs in development are showing substantial improvements in potency and performance based on advances in medicinal chemistry, understanding of molecular mechanisms and targeted delivery. Moreover, the ASOs in development include additional mechanisms of action and routes of administration such as aerosol and oral formulations. Here, we describe the key technological advances that have enabled this progress and discuss recent clinical trials that illustrate the impact of these advances on the performance of ASOs in a wide range of therapeutic applications. We also consider strategic issues such as target selection and provide perspectives on the future of the field.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Therapy*
  • Chemistry, Pharmaceutical*
  • Disease / genetics*
  • Drug Delivery Systems*
  • Humans
  • Oligonucleotides, Antisense / genetics
  • Oligonucleotides, Antisense / therapeutic use*


  • Oligonucleotides, Antisense