Rodent models of chronic pain may elucidate pathophysiological mechanisms and identify potential drug targets, but whether they predict clinical efficacy of novel compounds is controversial. Several potential analgesics have failed in clinical trials, in spite of strong animal modelling support for efficacy, but there are also examples of successful modelling. Significant differences in how methods are implemented and results are reported means that a literature-based comparison between preclinical data and clinical trials will not reveal whether a particular model is generally predictive. Limited reports on negative outcomes prevents reliable estimate of specificity of any model. Animal models tend to be validated with standard analgesics and may be biased towards tractable pain mechanisms. But preclinical publications rarely contain drug exposure data, and drugs are usually given in high doses and as a single administration, which may lead to drug distribution and exposure deviating significantly from clinical conditions. The greatest challenge for predictive modelling is, however, the heterogeneity of the target patient populations, in terms of both symptoms and pharmacology, probably reflecting differences in pathophysiology. In well-controlled clinical trials, a majority of patients shows less than 50% reduction in pain. A model that responds well to current analgesics should therefore predict efficacy only in a subset of patients within a diagnostic group. It follows that successful translation requires several models for each indication, reflecting critical pathophysiological processes, combined with data linking exposure levels with effect on target.
LINKED ARTICLES This article is part of a themed issue on Translational Neuropharmacology. To view the other articles in this issue visit http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/bph.2011.164.issue-4