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Open Access Research article

Alternate virtual populations elucidate the type I interferon signature predictive of the response to rituximab in rheumatoid arthritis

Brian J Schmidt, Fergal P Casey, Thomas Paterson and Jason R Chan*

Author Affiliations

Entelos Holding Corporation, 2121 South El Camino Real, Suite 600, San Mateo, CA 94403, USA

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BMC Bioinformatics 2013, 14:221  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-14-221

Published: 10 July 2013



Mechanistic biosimulation can be used in drug development to form testable hypotheses, develop predictions of efficacy before clinical trial results are available, and elucidate clinical response to therapy. However, there is a lack of tools to simultaneously (1) calibrate the prevalence of mechanistically distinct, large sets of virtual patients so their simulated responses statistically match phenotypic variability reported in published clinical trial outcomes, and (2) explore alternate hypotheses of those prevalence weightings to reflect underlying uncertainty in population biology. Here, we report the development of an algorithm, MAPEL (Mechanistic Axes Population Ensemble Linkage), which utilizes a mechanistically-based weighting method to match clinical trial statistics. MAPEL is the first algorithm for developing weighted virtual populations based on biosimulation results that enables the rapid development of an ensemble of alternate virtual population hypotheses, each validated by a composite goodness-of-fit criterion.


Virtual patient cohort mechanistic biosimulation results were successfully calibrated with an acceptable composite goodness-of-fit to clinical populations across multiple therapeutic interventions. The resulting virtual populations were employed to investigate the mechanistic underpinnings of variations in the response to rituximab. A comparison between virtual populations with a strong or weak American College of Rheumatology (ACR) score in response to rituximab suggested that interferon β (IFNβ) was an important mechanistic contributor to the disease state, a signature that has previously been identified though the underlying mechanisms remain unclear. Sensitivity analysis elucidated key anti-inflammatory properties of IFNβ that modulated the pathophysiologic state, consistent with the observed prognostic correlation of baseline type I interferon measurements with clinical response. Specifically, the effects of IFNβ on proliferation of fibroblast-like synoviocytes and interleukin-10 synthesis in macrophages each partially counteract reductions in synovial inflammation imparted by rituximab. A multianalyte biomarker panel predictive for virtual population therapeutic responses suggested population dependencies on B cell-dependent mediators as well as additional markers implicating fibroblast-like synoviocytes.


The results illustrate how the MAPEL algorithm can leverage knowledge of cellular and molecular function through biosimulation to propose clear mechanistic hypotheses for differences in clinical populations. Furthermore, MAPEL facilitates the development of multianalyte biomarkers prognostic of patient responses in silico.

Drug development; Mechanistic modeling; Biosimulation; Patient population; Biomarker; Pharmaceutical research & development; Personalized medicine