Organs-On-Chips: The Road to Patientless Clinical Trials and Beyond

February 28, 2019
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Patientless Clinical Trials

It has been a long and arduous journey for the clinical trials sector of the pharmaceutical and biotech industries. Recent years have proven to be especially delicate due to rising costs and difficulties with patient recruitment. Better healthcare options are, generally, more available in the United States and in Western Europe, where the bulk of the trials are being conducted and the patient population are much more discerning. There is also the issue of the ethical and humane treatment of animals being used for experiments. Which begs the question: What if there is a less costly and less rigorous way to conduct trials, which would also actively respect the well-being and lives of humans and animals in the process?

Revolutionary discoveries and advances in technology have raised the level of capabilities and potentialities of modern medicine. One of the ways in which they are being realized is through the combination of human stem cells affected by certain diseases and specially-designed devices— Organs-on-Chips (OOC)—that could serve as alternative models [to animal models] that could mimic the complexities of human organs, such as their microenvironments and physiological functions.

The Lung-on-a-Chip is one of the best examples of this amalgamation as it provides an in vitro approach to drug testing, which makes use of techniques in tissue engineering and microfabrication. They were first developed by a team from the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University. The chips hinge on a process called “Microfluidics”, in which minute volumes of liquid or air move through chambers within a three-dimensional environment (chip), imitating the natural state of a human organ as close as possible. It goes without saying that reliability and accuracy are potential problems, but they’re contrary to the point of the article.

Similar designs have, since then, been developed for several human organs. Essentially, scientists are now able to recreate disease states and carry out experimental treatments without the direct involvement and the risk of harming humans or animals alike, to a certain extent—avoiding unnecessary adverse reactions and discovering side-effects early on. Which brings us to the next potential OOC technology that is the most relevant to the drug discovery, development and, eventual, approval process: the Liver-on-a-Chip.

Considering that the liver is the primary site for drug metabolism, it is highly susceptible to drug-induced toxicity. Therefore, creating a model that would simulate its physiology and plasticity will help point us to the direction of faster and more efficient drug development. It will also significantly help pharmaceutical and biotech companies in proceeding to the clinical trials phase without further delays stemming from patient recruitment and stratification, and spiraling costs.

As the demand for better healthcare and the need for wide-ranging treatments increases to accommodate a growing population with multifarious backgrounds and medical needs, the emergence of the organs-on-chips technology will only help direct current efforts away from reliance on actual human patients and animal models, cutting the length of time it takes to bring a drug to the market and delivering treatment options faster to those who need them.
Want to explore this trend further? Why not join experts and decision-makers at the Medicinal Chemistry Strategy Meeting 2019 on the 19th of March (Tuesday) at the Crowne Plaza – London Docklands.

To register and get more information, you may visit Proventa International’s website at

Paula Coronado
Research Analyst, Proventa International