Issue 7 | January 2008
***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
The emergence of the pharmaceutical industry in the 19th century revolutionised the way we access medicines
In the past 70 years, the pharmaceutical industry has become a huge global enterprise
Nature has proved a lucrative source for many drugs
People are always looking for new ways to treat pain
Does a medicine depend only on the active ingredients within it?
Making a drug
Drug development is a long and expensive process
New methods are being used to speed up the time it takes to for a new drug to reach the market
Drug development is a rational, scientific endeavour, but many drugs have been identified by fluke
It can sometimes be challenging to develop ways to administer drugs
Some researchers are looking to biology to make drugs
What drugs do
Safe and sound
Before being used in humans, drugs undergo rigorous safety testing
A disastrous phase I trial in 2006 raised questions about the safety of drug testing.
Where do complementary and alternative medicines ﬁt into modern medical practice?
Despite the years of research and clinical trials, a drug may still turn out to have harmful side-effects
The cases of thalidomide and Vioxx show what can happen when things go wrong
Monitoring of a drug’s safety continues even after it is prescribed to patients
What level of risk are we prepared to tolerate with medicines?
Drug-resistant bacteria can mean that some treatments become ineffective over time
Does a terminally ill patient have the right to take potentially life-saving drugs that may not be safe?
Drugs and people
Drugs are now being used that can potentially make us smarter
To what lengths should we go to prevent disease?
Are we looking for simple answers to complex questions in the shape of a pill?
Will we ever have ‘his ‘n’ hers’ medicines?
Drugs that could target disease in certain ethnic groups are causing controversy
With advances in genomics, drugs could be more effective than ever
We can’t seem to make up our mind about drugs
Your money or your life
Have the days of drugs being available free to all ﬁnally gone?
Patents: good or bad?
How much does it cost to develop a new medicine?
Is pharma driven by improvements in health or by money?
Pharma is now encouraged to develop drugs for low-income countries
Manufactured pharmaceuticals dominate treatment, but some people are seeking alternatives
Real voices interviews
Meet Sarah, who uses homeopathic medicine to treat her eczema
Meet Roger, a volunteer who has taken part in drugs trials
Meet Daniel, who was denied the drug Lucentis on the NHS to treat his age-related macular degeneration
Activities and lesson ideas
All you need to help your students explore drug development
The Wellcome Trust has funded many other organisations that produce activities and resources to engage and educate young people about pharmaceuticals
Each issue of 'Big Picture' comes with a sprinkling of Fast Facts, fascinating snippets of information on the topic covered.