How the Pharmaceutical Industry works – the product lifecycle part II

A 'how to' series for students and jobseekers

This is part two in a series on the pharmaceutical industry. Read Part I in the series here.

Research begins the process

Officially, the beginning of the drug lifecycle starts in the ‘development’ phase.

Before this begins, just as in other industries, pharma companies conduct research to find new and innovative products. This phase is also known as the drug discovery phase.

Understanding the disease to identify `drug target areas´

Step one in drug discovery lies in understanding the nature of the diseases in all their complexity. Within this, researchers are identifying ‘drug target areas’. These are areas in the human organism that are thought to be the source of the disease.

To give a simple example, let’s take the painkiller paracetemol. The UK National Health Service says “paracetamol works as a painkiller by affecting chemicals in the body called prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are substances released in response to illness or injury. Paracetamol blocks the production of prostaglandins, making the body less aware of the pain or injury”. In this case prostaglandins are paracetamol’s ‘drug target area’.

In order to identify such drug target areas, a multi-disciplinary and continuously evolving effort is required. This involves many specialists in a company’s research department and beyond. These include: physicians, micro-biologists, physicists, chemists and engineers among others.

Inventing drug candidates

Once these drug target areas are identified, researchers go on to find another molecule that can interrupt this process and ideally stop the symptoms of the disease – this is known as the ‘drug candidate’.

Pharmacologists are then called in to identify how they will test the drug candidate in order to identify its positive effects and any potential side-effects. Scientists start with a series of standard tests and then move to more and more specific means according to the results.

Should the drug candidate pass these tests and be considered as safe, research presents it to general management for movement into the development pipeline.

Our next instalment of the series looks at how product development works for pharmaceutical medicines.

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