Issue 7 | January 2008

Drug Development

***Articles reviewed and updated in August 2014***

Although they provide immense benefits, drugs aren't a perfect solution: they can be expensive, they only help a proportion of patients, sometimes they harm us, and we’re not very good at taking them as we should. Join us as we investigate what part pharmaceuticals play in modern life and ask where might we go in the future.

Browse through the individual articles, check out our image gallery and consider our lesson ideas. This issue was first published in 2008; in 2014, all of the individual resources were reviewed and updated for accuracy and currency. Please do note, however, that the PDF of the original 2008 issue has not been updated from its original form.

The pharma story

Pharma is born

The emergence of the pharmaceutical industry in the 19th century revolutionised the way we access medicines

Postwar expansion

In the past 70 years, the pharmaceutical industry has become a huge global enterprise

Nature’s medicine chest

Nature has proved a lucrative source for many drugs

Fighting pain

People are always looking for new ways to treat pain

The placebo effect

Does a medicine depend only on the active ingredients within it?

Making a drug

Developing a novel drug

Drug development is a long and expensive process

Priming the pipeline

New methods are being used to speed up the time it takes to for a new drug to reach the market

The age of chance

Drug development is a rational, scientific endeavour, but many drugs have been identified by fluke

Drug delivery

It can sometimes be challenging to develop ways to administer drugs


Some researchers are looking to biology to make drugs

What drugs do

Small wonder

Most drugs are small organic chemicals

A true magic bullet?

Monoclonal antibodies are being used to treat a host of different diseases

Spanners in the works

What do pharmaceuticals actually do?

Drugs of the future

The future may bring alternatives to the treatments we know today

Safe and sound

Safety first

Before being used in humans, drugs undergo rigorous safety testing

Trial and error

A disastrous phase I trial in 2006 raised questions about the safety of drug testing.

Holistic hullabaloo

Where do complementary and alternative medicines fit into modern medical practice?

Dangerous drugs

Despite the years of research and clinical trials, a drug may still turn out to have harmful side-effects

A tale of two drugs

The cases of thalidomide and Vioxx show what can happen when things go wrong

A watching brief

Monitoring of a drug’s safety continues even after it is prescribed to patients

How safe is safe?

What level of risk are we prepared to tolerate with medicines?

Drug rebels

Drug-resistant bacteria can mean that some treatments become ineffective over time

Right to risk it?

Does a terminally ill patient have the right to take potentially life-saving drugs that may not be safe?

Drugs and people

Smart pills

Drugs are now being used that can potentially make us smarter

Prevention: still better than a cure?

To what lengths should we go to prevent disease?

A cure for all ills?

Are we looking for simple answers to complex questions in the shape of a pill?

Gender trap

Will we ever have ‘his ‘n’ hers’ medicines?

Ethnic differences

Drugs that could target disease in certain ethnic groups are causing controversy

Tailoring medicines

With advances in genomics, drugs could be more effective than ever

Attitudes to drugs

We can’t seem to make up our mind about drugs

Your money or your life

Drugs for all

Have the days of drugs being available free to all finally gone?

Patently obvious

Patents: good or bad?

Drug costs

How much does it cost to develop a new medicine?

The market decides

Is pharma driven by improvements in health or by money?

Global market for drugs

Pharma is now encouraged to develop drugs for low-income countries

Alternatives to drugs

Manufactured pharmaceuticals dominate treatment, but some people are seeking alternatives

Real voices interviews

Real Voices interview: Sarah

Meet Sarah, who uses homeopathic medicine to treat her eczema

Real Voices interview: Roger

Meet Roger, a volunteer who has taken part in drugs trials

Real Voices interview: Daniel

Meet Daniel, who was denied the drug Lucentis on the NHS to treat his age-related macular degeneration

Activities and lesson ideas

Lesson idea: Pharmaceutical company simulation

All you need to help your students explore drug development

Further resources and activities on drug development

The Wellcome Trust has funded many other organisations that produce activities and resources to engage and educate young people about pharmaceuticals

Fast Facts

Each issue of 'Big Picture' comes with a sprinkling of Fast Facts, fascinating snippets of information on the topic covered.

Browse through all of our Fast Facts indexed by topic