The discovery and development of proteomic safety biomarkers for the detection of drug-induced liver toxicity

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Biomarkers are biometric measurements that provide critical quantitative information about the biological condition of the animal or individual being tested. In drug safety studies, established toxicity biomarkers are used along with other conventional study data to determine dose-limiting organ toxicity, and to define species sensitivity for new chemical entities intended for possible use as human medicines. A continuing goal of drug safety scientists in the pharmaceutical industry is to discover and develop better trans-species biomarkers that can be used to determine target organ toxicities for preclinical species in short-term studies at dose levels that are some multiple of the intended human dose and again later in full development for monitoring clinical trials at lower therapeutic doses. Of particular value are early, predictive, noninvasive biomarkers that have in vitro, in vivo, and clinical transferability. Such translational biomarkers bridge animal testing used in preclinical science and human studies that are part of subsequent clinical testing. Although suitable for in vivo preclinical regulatory studies, conventional hepatic safety biomarkers are basically confirmatory markers because they signal organ toxicity after some pathological damage has occurred, and are therefore not well-suited for short-term, predictive screening assays early in the discovery-to-development progression of new chemical entities (NCEs) available in limited quantities. Efforts between regulatory agencies and the pharmaceutical industry are underway for the coordinated discovery, qualification, verification and validation of early predictive toxicity biomarkers. Early predictive safety biomarkers are those that are detectable and quantifiable prior to the onset of irreversible tissue injury and which are associated with a mechanism of action relevant to a specific type of potential hepatic injury. Potential drug toxicity biomarkers are typically endogenous macromolecules in biological fluids with varying immunoreactivity which can present bioanalytical challenges when first discovered. The potential success of these efforts is greatly enhanced by recent advances in two closely linked technologies, toxicoproteomics and targeted, quantitative mass spectrometry. This review focuses on the examination of the current status of these technologies as they relate to the discovery and development of novel preclinical biomarkers of hepatotoxicity. A critical assessment of the current literature reveals two distinct lines of safety biomarker investigation, (1) peripheral fluid biomarkers of organ toxicity and (2) tissue or cell-based toxicity signatures. Improved peripheral fluid biomarkers should allow the sensitive detection of potential organ toxicity prior to the onset of overt organ pathology. Advancements in tissue or cell-based toxicity biomarkers will provide sensitive in vitro or ex vivo screening systems based on toxicity pathway markers. An examination of the current practices in clinical pathology and the critical evaluation of some recently proposed biomarker candidates in comparison to the desired characteristics of an ideal toxicity biomarker lead this author to conclude that a combination of selected biomarkers will be more informative if not predictive of potential animal organ toxicity than any single biomarker, new or old. For the practical assessment of combinations of conventional and/or novel toxicity biomarkers in rodent and large animal preclinical species, mass spectrometry has emerged as the premier analytical tool compared to specific immunoassays or functional assays. Selected and multiple reaction monitoring mass spectrometry applications make it possible for this same basic technology to be used in the progressive stages of biomarker discovery, development, and more importantly, routine study applications without the use of specific antibody reagents. This technology combined with other “omics” technologies can provide added selectivity and sensitivity in preclinical drug safety testing.

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