Could the drug development process be improved by testing new drugs in “virtual humans” via computer simulation? A recent study suggests that it could and that such models could reduce reliance on animals while leading to the development of safer and more effective drugs.
The need to ensure that drugs are safe and effective for humans is an integral part of the drug development process. Cardiovascular toxicity, in particular, is one of the main reasons drugs fail during development, raising concerns about the way that drugs are tested in existing preclinical models, including those that rely upon animals.
Animals are used in drug testing based on a presumption that similarities between animals and humans allow for data from animal models to be applied to people. However, research has consistently shown that differences between humans and other species make translating data from animals to people problematic.
This has led researchers to investigate whether using human-relevant computer models could do a better job of predicting side effects of drugs for the human heart than animals could.
Researchers recently evaluated the ability of computer models to predict the clinical risk of adverse cardiac events induced by drugs. They then compared their results against data that had been collected from animal and cell models. The data revealed that the computer models of human heart cells were more accurate than animal models in predicting adverse cardiac events.
These results suggest that integrating computer models into the early stages of drug testing would reduce animal use and improve drug safety.
While the results of this study were based on simulations of heart cells, researchers continue to push the boundaries of what can be achieved with computer simulations. Larger scale models are being built, including 3-D models of the whole heart—and work is even being done to model the entire human body.
We look forward to the ways these models will reduce, and perhaps one day replace, animal use in many areas of scientific study.
Passini, E. “Should computer simulations replace animal testing for heart drugs?” The Conversation US, March 27, 2018. Reprinted in Scientific American.
Passini, E., et al. “Human In Silico Drug Trials Demonstrate Higher Accuracy than Animal Models in Predicting Clinical Pro-Arrhythmic Cardiotoxicity, Front. Physiol., September 12, 2017.