Leveraging microphysiological systems to address challenges encountered during development of oligonucleotide therapeutics

ALTEX. 2022;39(2):273–296. doi: 10.14573/altex.2108241. Epub 2021 Nov 11.


Oligonucleotide therapeutics (ONTs) encompass classes of medicines that selectively target and potentially ameliorate previously untreatable and often rare diseases. Several unique classes of ONTs provide versatility, enabling direct modu­lation of gene expression by virtue of Watson-Crick base pairing or modulation of cell signaling through structural mimicry or interference with protein-receptor interactions. Due to a lack of suitable in vitro models capable of recapitulating or predicting in vivo effects of ONTs, their discovery and optimization has relied heavily on animal studies for predicting efficacy and safety in humans. Since ONTs often lack cross-species activity, animal models with genetic humanization and/or species-specific surrogate ONTs are often required. Human microphysiological systems (MPS) offer an oppor­tunity to reduce the use of animals and may enable evaluation of drug mechanisms, optimization of cell and tissue targeting ligands or delivery vehicles, and characterization of pharmacokinetics (PK), pharmacodynamics (PD), and safety of candidate ONTs. The lack of published examples for MPS applications with ONT demonstrates the need for a focused effort to characterize and build confidence in their utility. The goals of this review are to summarize the current landscape of ONTs and highlight potential opportunities and challenges for application of MPS during ONT discovery and development. In addition, this review aims to raise awareness with ONT drug developers and regulatory authorities on the potential impact of MPS with respect to characterizing pharmacology, ADME, and toxicity and to educate MPS platform developers on unique design attributes needed to fully appreciate MPS advantages in ONT development.

Keywords: antisense oligonucleotides; complex in vitro models; context of use applications; siRNA; stem cells.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Oligonucleotides* / therapeutic use
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations


  • Oligonucleotides
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations