What is Drug R&D?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 11 October 2019
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Drug R&D refers to the research and development of new pharmaceuticals in scientific laboratories and clinical settings. In order to be mass marketed, a drug must be extensively researched and tested to determine its effectiveness, safety, side effects, and potential complications. Many professionals are involved with drug R&D, including chemists and biologists, research pharmacologists, psychologists, medical doctors, government officials, and retail pharmacists.

The first stages of drug R&D occur in laboratory settings, where scientists conduct initial research about different chemicals that may prove useful in fighting bacterial infections, inflammation, viruses, or cancers. Chemists, microbiologists, and pharmacologists experiment by combining different types of chemicals and testing their effectiveness on laboratory tissue, blood, and fluid samples that contain cancers or diseases. They use strict guidelines and employ scientific methodology to ensure that results are accurate and reliable. Scientists try to predict and minimize the potentially negative side effects of new drugs by adjusting the concentrations of different chemical components.


Once a drug has proven effective in a laboratory setting, it is usually produced in a large enough quantity to be tested on a sample of human subjects. Research psychologists and pharmacologists set up extensive clinical trials, where they administer the drug to some participants and placebos to others. Most trials emphasize the importance of double-blind studies, in which neither the researchers nor the participants are aware of who is receiving until after the testing period is completed. Double-blind research methods are essential to ensure unbiased, scientifically accurate analyses of the drug's effectiveness.

In most cases, the clinical testing phase of drug R&D takes months or even years to complete. Drugs must be administered to several different sample groups and the results critically scrutinized to gain a detailed understanding of the risks and benefits involved. Most countries have governmental organizations which research the results of clinical tests and make the final decision on whether or not a drug is approved to be mass manufactured and marketed to the public.

Drug R&D continues even after a medication becomes commercially available. Doctors and pharmacists who distribute a new drug often ask patients to check in and explain their results and side effects. Some drugs are found to be dangerous to individuals with certain medical conditions that were not considered in previous clinical tests. When doctors or pharmacists receive negative reports, they relay information to health officials who can order investigations, recall the drug from the market, and insist that further drug R&D be conducted on the product.


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