The pharmaceutical sciences combine a broad range of scientific disciplines that are critical to the discovery and development of new drugs and therapies. Pharmaceutical sciences can be broadly classified into the following main categories, with many specialized fields within each category.
Drug Discovery and Design
Drug Discovery and Design deals with the design and synthesis of new drug molecules. This category includes specialized fields of study such as medicinal chemistry, combinatorial chemistry, structural biology, identification of biological targets, and assay development to test drug candidates.
Drug Delivery is concerned with the design of dosage forms — such as tablets, injections or patches — that will deliver the drug to the site of action in a patient. The purpose is to ensure that the drug arrives in the right concentration and at the right time. Specialty fields within Drug Delivery include pharmaceutics, biomaterials, and pharmacokinetics.
Drug Action examines how the drug itself actually works in a living system, which is the definition of pharmacology. The action of the drug can be studied at the molecular level, in a cell, an organ, and in animals. Specialty fields within Drug Action include molecular biology, pharmacology, pharmacodynamics, toxicology, and biochemistry.
Clinical Sciences are concerned with the use of drugs in the treatment of diseases. Particular properties of new drugs — such as efficacy, adverse effects, drug-to-drug interaction, bioavailability — are determined in clinical trials in humans.
Drug Analysis involves separating, identifying, and quantifying the components of a sample. Analytical chemistry is an important component of all areas of the pharmaceutical sciences.
Cost Effectiveness of Medicines (Pharmacoeconomics)
Cost Effectiveness of Medicines (Pharmacoeconomics) examines the economic savings from the use of one drug rather than others, with regard to costs for the drug itself and patient management (e.g., compliance, quality of life, physician visits, potential hospitalization).
Regulatory Affairs promotes communication, understanding, and cooperation between scientists from industry and academia and the regulatory authorities worldwide who govern approval and distribution, by means of developing regulatory guidelines.
More and more, these categories are beginning to overlap. For example, a scientific engineer working in Drug Delivery needs to understand how toxicology affects Drug Action, and a chemist working in Drug Discovery and Design must know about the pharmacokinetics of Drug Delivery. For this reason, pharmaceutical scientists are required to have a broad base of knowledge in a variety of sciences.
Career Opportunities in the Pharmaceutical Sciences
Over the years, pharmaceutical scientists have been instrumental in discovering and developing innovative drugs that save thousands of people’s lives and improve the quality of life for many others. Pharmaceutical scientists can pursue a variety of jobs. They are employed by pharmaceutical companies, they work as pharmacists, doctors, and as researchers and professors at universities, as regulatory scientists for agencies like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and as researchers at national laboratories such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH).