In this modern society, we take for granted many of the pharmaceutical marvels to be enjoyed. In truth, the development of our medicine can be traced back for centuries. Along the way, numerous advancements have been made. As we are now living within an age of unprecedented technology and innovation, how are modern medicines discovered? It is wise to take a brief look into this amazing process.
Identifying and Isolating Chemicals
Normally, certain chemicals and compounds will exhibit an effect upon the body. Some of these are well understood (such as acetaminophen) while others are still being discovered. Once a new compound is isolated, it will be theoretically tested within a laboratory.
While some disagree with this ethical practice, testing the efficacy of any potentially “new” medicine will usually occur with the use of animals. The danger to humans is too great of a concern. The type of animal will vary. For instance, a skin ointment could be used on an organism which has similar features as our own (such as a pig). The treatment of HIV and AIDS compounds could involve the use of a primate; many of their internal systems mimic ours in important ways.
When animal studies have proven to be successful and promising, the next step will involve administering the same compound to humans. Volunteers will normally be selected. From a large pool, those with certain health characteristics are then chosen. Trials can last between a few days to weeks and even months. There are different phases to each trial and more than one session will need to take place. This is to ensure that the largest amount of data is gathered.
If we assume that all trials have conclusively proven that a drug is safe for human use, there is still one final step. The findings need to be presented to the relevant governing body (examples can be the NHS in the United Kingdom and the FDA in the United States). Of course, not all drugs will be approved and if the organisation is not satisfied with the results, more tests will be needed. However, it should be noted that a certain medication not allowed within a specific part of the world may very well be approved by another.
The development of many medicines tends to be quite a long process for obvious safety reasons. In fact, it can be a decade or more between a discovery and its release to the public. There are some instances such as the recent Ebola outbreak which will cause governments to “fast track” their research; especially if there is a threat to a regional population.
The pharmaceutical industry is indeed quite exciting. As further advancements are made, it is only logical to assume that better medicines will be produced.