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Physiologically-based pharmacokinetic and cellular kinetic models are used extensively to predict concentration profiles of drugs or adoptively transferred cells in patients and laboratory animals. Models are fit to data by the numerical optimisation of appropriate parameter values. When quantities such as the area under the curve are all that is desired, only a close qualitative fit to data is required. When the biological interpretation of the model that produced the fit is important, an assessment of uncertainties is often also warranted. Often, a goal of fitting PBPK models to data is to estimate parameter values, which can then be used to assess characteristics of the fit system or applied to inform new modelling efforts and extrapolation, to inform a prediction under new conditions. However, the parameters that yield a particular model output may not necessarily be unique, in which case the parameters are said to be unidentifiable. We show that the parameters in three published physiologically-based pharmacokinetic models are practically (deterministically) unidentifiable and that it is challenging to assess the associated parameter uncertainty with simple curve fitting techniques. This result could affect many physiologically-based pharmacokinetic models, and we advocate more widespread use of thorough techniques and analyses to address these issues, such as established Markov Chain Monte Carlo and Bayesian methodologies. Greater handling and reporting of uncertainty and identifiability of fit parameters would directly and positively impact interpretation and translation for physiologically-based model applications, enhancing their capacity to inform new model development efforts and extrapolation in support of future clinical decision-making.

Original publication




Journal article


J Pharmacokinet Pharmacodyn

Publication Date



Identifiability, Parameter, Uncertainty