Futuristic “Human-on-Chip” Models Will Help Drug Development

11/19/13

The pharmaceutical industry needs better scientific models for testing drugs before they get to the proving ground of human clinical trials. Current lab dish models and animal testing models are time-consuming, expensive and chronically unable to predict which drugs are going to work in clinical trials. The industry is crying out for new modes of early testing that can shorten the timelines, reduce the cost and increase the odds of success in clinical trials.

Both lab dish models and animal models have run into serious limitations. Cell culture (“in vitro”) assays offer some real advantages. Many can provide true, “human” answers to fairly simple questions. But they lack complexity.

Therefore, due both to regulatory requirements and convention, pharmaceutical companies have for decades progressed their testing from cells into animals, where the testers can see the impact on an entire organism with all its interconnecting systems.

But animal models are in some ways even worse. As Dylan Walsh pointed out in his timely New Yorker blog post, most animal testing—the kind done in rodents—is crude and ineffective, not to mention how it feels for the mice.

Fortunately, the reliance on this unfortunate patchwork might be about to crack. If cell models could be shown to predict efficacy in a reliable way, ineffective therapeutic candidates would fail faster – and cheaper.  Better safety testing would drastically reduce the sacrifice of animals while yielding more predictive results. Here, though, any changes there would likely take many years because of the immense difficulty of making regulatory agencies like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration comfortable with new regulations.

In fact, futuristic models are beginning to appear. Walsh’s New Yorker post features Harvard luminary Don Ingber, who has been working, organ by organ, on establishing better … Next Page »

Steve Dickman is a former venture capitalist and the CEO of boutique consulting firm CBT Advisors as well as the author of the blog Boston Biotech Watch. Follow @

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  • http://www.hollyip.com/ Suleman Ali

    Clearly there must be lots of advantages to using organ on chip models in terms of being able to isolate the system and study it more deeply. Perhaps today’s pharma researchers are more interested in progressing drugs through the system, rather than really understanding all their impacts.