Determination of therapeutic efficacy is a major challenge in developing treatment options for cancer. Prior to in vivo studies, candidate therapeutics are evaluated using cell-based in vitro methods to assess their anti-cancer potential. This review describes the utility and limitations of evaluating therapeutic efficacy using human tumor-derived cell lines. Indicators for therapeutic efficacy using tumor-derived cell lines include cell viability, cell proliferation, colony formation, cytotoxicity, cytostasis, induction of apoptosis, and cell cycle arrest. Cell panel screens, 3D tumor spheroid models, drug-drug/drug-radiation combinatorial analysis, and invasion/migration assays reveal analogous in vitro information. In animal models, cellular assays can assess tumor micro-environment and therapeutic delivery. The utility of tumor-derived cell lines for efficacy determination is manifest in numerous commercially approved drugs that have been applied in clinical management of cancer. Studies reveal most tumor-derived cell lines preserve the genomic signature of the primary tumor source and cell line-based data is highly predictive of subsequent clinical studies. However, cell-based data often disregards natural system components, resulting in cell autonomous outcomes. While 3D cell culture platforms can counter such limitations, they require additional time and cost. Despite the limitations, cell-based methods remain essential in early stages of anti-cancer drug development.
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