Oligonucleotide-based pharmaceuticals: Non-clinical and clinical safety signals and non-clinical testing strategies

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Antisense oligonucleotides, short interfering RNAs (siRNAs) and aptamers are oligonucleotide-based pharmaceuticals with a promising role in targeted therapies. Currently, five oligonucleotide-based pharmaceuticals have achieved marketing authorization in Europe or USA and many more are undergoing clinical testing. However, several safety concerns have been raised in non-clinical and clinical studies. Oligonucleotides share properties with both chemical and biological pharmaceuticals and therefore they pose challenges also from the regulatory point of view. We have analyzed the safety data of oligonucleotides and evaluated the applicability of current non-clinical toxicological guidelines for assessing the safety of oligonucleotide-based pharmaceuticals. Oligonucleotide-based pharmaceuticals display a similar toxicological profile, exerting adverse effects on liver and kidney, evoking hematological alterations, as well as causing immunostimulation and prolonging the coagulation time. It is possible to extrapolate some of these effects from non-clinical studies to humans. However, evaluation strategies for genotoxicity testing of “non-natural” oligonucleotides should be revised. Additionally, the selective use of surrogates and prediction of clinical endpoints for non-clinically observed immunostimulation is complicated by its multiple potential manifestations, demanding improvements in the testing strategies. Utilizing more relevant and mechanistic-based approaches and taking better account of species differences, could possibly improve the prediction of relevant immunological/proinflammatory effects in humans.

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