Interactive resources for schools

Select an age range to seek interactive content for...

The development of a modern medicine

The biopharmaceutical industry is constantly developing new medicines. Pharmaceutical companies invest around £11m a day in Research and Development (R&D). R&D spending by the UK pharmaceutical industry is much higher than that of other industries.

Section title

The medicine development process
Show full screen in new window

Discovering new medicines

Robots used for screening compounds

Teams of chemists, pharmacologists and biologists search for molecules with medicinal properties. Molecular structures are altered to optimise activity and minimise unwanted side effects.

A technique called high-throughput screening has automated many of the initial tests and pharmaceutical laboratories may now screen thousands of compounds per week. Research chemists can use computers to model designer molecules and using the latest equipment, large pharmaceutical companies may synthesise and screen 300,000 molecules a year.

At this pre-clinical development phase, additional tests are carried out. These include animal tests to check that the chemical compound is not poisonous and chemical tests to show that it is stable enough to be used as a medicine.

Promising medicines then pass on to the clinical development phase.

A massive task

For every new medicine that passes all the trials over 5,000 compounds need to be screened. On average It takes an amazing eleven years of development and, in 2014, cost £1.15 billion for each new medicine that reaches the patient.

In 2016 there were over 7000 medicines in development to treat diseases such as cancer, diabetes and infectious diseases.

Formulating medicines

Find out about the different ways of delivering a medicine through this animation.

Section title

Show full screen in new window

The formulation of a medicine is how it’s made up. For example, tablets and ointment are both types of formulation. The formulation depends on several factors including:

  • how easy it is to take or use
  • how quickly a medicine needs to get into the body
  • where it has to work in the body

Question

Look at the medicines development timeline at the top of this page. Some of the phrases have the meanings shown below. Choose the phrase with the given meaning.

1. Helps heal disease
tissue
excretion
therapeutic
clinical trials
placebo
tissue
(The correct answer is:
'therapeutic')
excretion
(The correct answer is:
'therapeutic')
therapeutic
clinical trials
(The correct answer is:
'therapeutic')
placebo
(The correct answer is:
'therapeutic')
2. An inactive medicine given to patients on a trial
tissue
excretion
therapeutic
clinical trials
placebo
tissue
(The correct answer is:
'placebo')
excretion
(The correct answer is:
'placebo')
therapeutic
(The correct answer is:
'placebo')
clinical trials
(The correct answer is:
'placebo')
placebo
3. A collection of living cells that respond as though they were part of an animal
tissue
excretion
therapeutic
clinical trials
placebo
tissue
excretion
(The correct answer is:
'tissue')
therapeutic
(The correct answer is:
'tissue')
clinical trials
(The correct answer is:
'tissue')
placebo
(The correct answer is:
'tissue')
4. Removal of a by-product from the body
tissue
excretion
therapeutic
clinical trials
placebo
tissue
(The correct answer is:
'excretion')
excretion
therapeutic
(The correct answer is:
'excretion')
clinical trials
(The correct answer is:
'excretion')
placebo
(The correct answer is:
'excretion')
5. Testing the effects of a new substance on people
tissue
excretion
therapeutic
clinical trials
placebo
tissue
(The correct answer is:
'clinical trials')
excretion
(The correct answer is:
'clinical trials')
therapeutic
(The correct answer is:
'clinical trials')
clinical trials
placebo
(The correct answer is:
'clinical trials')