Pharmaceutical chemistry, also known as medicinal chemistry, is a meeting of the minds between the disciplines of pharmacology and chemistry. The concept behind the discipline is the research and development of prescription medications. Pharmaceutical chemists use their knowledge of chemistry to create compounds for medical applications. These professionals must have an extensive awareness of current drugs on the market, what they do, as well as what they are missing. This knowledge combined with research help them to create or synthesize new pharmaceutical compounds that improve on old ones or provide new treatment options in areas where previous attempts did not exist.
This particular field is an interdisciplinary science. Professionals work with both organic and metal containing compounds, molecules, and biopolymers and combine those compounds with extensive study in chemistry, pharmacology, molecular biology, and statistics. Their first initial steps are to find compounds with the biological properties necessary for their current research. In other words, they look for plants, animals, fungi, and inorganic chemical elements that exhibit properties with a potential to treat or cure medical conditions. This may require combining compounds which have a beneficial chemical reaction.
Drug discovery occurs when a pharmaceutical chemist identifies a novel active compound. This is called a hit. Hits are merely clues for these chemists. A hit represents a positive outcome in an experiment where the chemist tests compounds against a biological target. For example, certain compounds containing platinum have been found to contain anti-cancer agents. This provided a hit that let researchers know they were on the right track. Further modification and testing help determine if a particular compound warrants further development as a pharmaceutical drug. As development progresses medicinal chemists render the compound in such a way as to prepare it for clinical trials and FDA approval. However, the road from identification to clinical trial is a long one and requires extensive experimentation and research.
To become a medicinal chemist does not necessarily require a degree in pharmaceutical chemistry. However, extensive education and a graduate level chemistry program is considered the minimum requirement. It is not uncommon to find a chemist whose area of study or degree is in organic chemistry. There are graduate schools and pharmaceutical colleges that offer Masters and PhD level degree programs in medicinal chemistry. Since this particular profession requires such interdisciplinary science, it is possible that professionals may hold both chemistry and biology degrees of different varieties. For example, a medicinal chemist might have formal training that focuses on a chemistry degree with a minor in biology. Even with a PhD in medicinal chemistry, additional education post-doctorate of up to three years is recommended, as well as an extensive understanding of the regulations involved in drug discovery.
- ACS Division of Medicinal Chemistry: American Chemical Society features a description of what a medicinal chemist is, in layman’s terms.
- The European Federation for Medicinal Chemistry: Over 20 European countries participate in this professional organization with ties to ACS.
- Royal Society of Chemistry: RSC contains a wealth of chemistry-related information, some very specific to pharmaceutical and medicinal chemistry and the site has an easy-to-use search feature to browse hundreds of pages of content.
- The Journal of Medicinal Chemistry: First publication in 1957 and the most cited in 2009, JMC requires a subscription but some content is sponsored and is available online for free.
- A Career in Medicinal Chemistry: University of Washington School of Pharmacy offers a PhD program in Medicinal Chemistry.
- Nature Reviews Articles on Drug Discovery: This site contains numerous links to full text articles relative to the process of drug discovery and what it entails.
- Medicinal Chemistry Glossary of Terms: First published in 1998, the IUPAC seeks to keep an up to date online glossary of terms pertaining to medicinal chemistry.
- Extensive Resources from IUPAC: The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, Chemistry and Human Health Division provides an exhaustive list of resources, including links to full text PDF books and other projects sponsored by IUPAC on the subject of Medicinal Chemistry.
- Future Medicinal Chemistry: Full text PDF copies of issues from one of the leading professional journals covering medicinal chemistry.
- Ole Miss MedChem Program: Link offers not only basic overview of what medicinal chemistry is, but also information about University of Mississippi’s medicinal chemistry degree programs.
- American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists: The AAPS website provides extensive information on drug discovery.
- Careers in Medicinal Chemistry: Published by Chemical and Engineering News, this article discusses the outlook on careers in medicinal chemistry from 2003 into the future.
- Medicinal Chemistry Research at Purdue: Purdue is involved in numerous areas of medicinal and molecular chemistry research that focuses on disease treatment, prevention, and cures.
- Welcome to the National Center for Cancer Research: Extensive information is available from NCCR about clinical trials and other aspects of cancer research and medicinal chemistry.
- Newton Ask a Scientist: Advice from a working scientist in relation to a student’s questions about training and career paths in medicinal chemistry.
- History and Background on Governmentally Funded Medicinal Chemistry Study: The National Institute of Health sponsored this study before adapting the latest study, which is also discussed.
- The FDA: The FDA provides extensive resources and information for both consumers and professionals concerning drug discovery, proper clinical trials, and other regulations of interest to medicinal chemists.
- Changing How the FDA Handles New Drugs: The Critical Path Initiative from the FDA seeks to change the process by which new drugs are developed and clinical trials are carried out, publishing up to date information for both consumers and researchers.
- Barcelona Institute for Research: Report from IRB Barcelona on what their medicinal chemistry division does, projects currently underway, and other pharmaceutical chemistry information.
- A Brief Look at What MedChem Labs Do: This brochure from Southwest Research Institute provides an informative look into what a medicinal chemistry lab does in terms of services, experiments, and clinical trials preparation.
- Chemical Toxicology Newsletter: The ACS Division of Chemical Toxicology publishes a newsletter for members with articles available online covering resent developments in the industry.
- Endeavor to Learn More About What is Happening in MedChem: Scripps Research Institute publishes Endeavor Magazine, which is available for download in PDF format, and discusses currently advancements and news in MedChem.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, Medical Scientist: The Bureau of Labor Statistics offers career overviews, job outlooks, and training requirements for the field of medical science, which includes drug and pharmaceutical research.
- Current Topics in Medicinal Chemistry: Published by Betham Science, this page contains numerous abstracts and full text articles covering current findings and topics of research in Medicinal Chemistry.
- Find Clinical Study Results: This website provides a user-friendly resource for finding the results of clinical drug studies, each of which can be searched by company, disease, or medication name.
- Inside Drug Discovery: Innovation.org is a joint effort of numerous pharmaceutical and biotech companies and here they explain the process of drug discovery.
- Research, Courses, and Reports: The Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development is affiliated with Tufts University and provides extensive information on current issues facing drug development as well as continuing education for MedChem professionals.
- The Many Articles of Dr. Stephen DeFelice: Founder of the Foundation for Innovation in Medicine, Dr. DeFelice has written several articles and been published in print publications on the topic of medicinal chemistry, among other medicinal subjects.
- Drug Research Shortcomings: Article published by the University of Southern California, it covers the shortcomings in comparative effectiveness drug research, one of the current topics of discussion in medicinal chemistry.
- Technology and Global PharmChem Development: This article, published in 2006, explains how medicinal and pharmaceutical chemistry and the drug development industry has been impacted by modern technology and what that means globally.
- Walter Reed Oldest MedChem Institute in the U.S: Walter Reed Army Institute of Research is the oldest public health research institute in the country, and the largest biomedical lab in the military, as well as boasting a long list of accomplishments in drug research.
- Drug Discovery from a Business Perspective: Drug Discovery World is an industry publication covering the business aspect of drug discovery.
- Clinical Trial Regulations, Policies, and Guidance: From the National Institute on Drug Abuse, this page hosts a wealth of resources to ensure pharmaceutical chemists and other scientists understand how to conduct clinical trials as part of the drug discovery process.
- Registration for Clinical Trials: Part of the responsibility of being a pharmaceutical chemist involves the responsible operation of clinical trials, which is heavily regulated and requires registration and compliance with federal standards.
Image courtesy: Flicka.com via afroboof