Foundations of drug development

A selection of the many scientific fields that contribute to drug development

Pharmacology studies the action of a drug on an organism, human or otherwise. This can include looking at a drug’s effect at a molecular level to its effect on whole organ systems. To understand a drug’s safety, it’s important to know how the body absorbs, distributes, metabolises and excretes it – within the field, this is known as ADME.

The study of medicine allows us to understand the symptoms of disease and illness in humans. Doctors use the knowledge gained from medical school to diagnose, treat and prevent disease. A doctor will prescribe drugs developed by scientists in a lab. They provide the link between patients and the cutting-edge drugs in development.

Biochemistry looks at the chemical processes occurring in biological systems. Scientists study complex reaction pathways in all kinds of organisms, from humans to yeast. By understanding the chemistry of a disease state, drugs that aim to restore it back to normal can be developed.

Structural biology studies the 3D shape of large biological molecules, known as ‘macromolecules’. Techniques such as X-ray crystallography and nuclear magnetic resonance allow us to image individual atoms and bonds. How a drug binds to a molecule is extremely important in understanding its mode of action.

About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Drug Development’ in January 2008 and reviewed and updated in August 2014.

Drug Development
Education levels:
16–19, Continuing professional development