Pharmaceutical chemistry is an area of chemistry that focuses on the development and evaluation of new drugs. Modern medicine relies on a multitude of drugs produced through the efforts of pharmaceutical chemists, including drugs such as cisplatin, used in the treatment of cancer, and AZT, used in the treatment of AIDS. The most effective approaches to drug development rely on a fundamental knowledge of the chemical and biochemical basis underlying the targeted disease state and how that disease affects the living system.
Pharmaceutical chemists may perform two very different kinds of functions in the pharmaceutical industry: 1) a “synthetic” function and 2) an “analytical” function, each of which requires a correspondingly different kind of chemical training.
The “synthetic” pharmaceutical chemist, sometimes also called a medicinal chemist, is asked to devise and implement strategies for the synthesis of drugs that can reduce or eliminate the impact of disease, injuries, or genetic defects. Subsequent efforts are focused on the modification of the drug or change in the delivery mechanism (e.g., pill vs. patch) with the goal of maximizing the therapeutic effects while minimizing the negative side effects and lowering the cost of production.
Students interested in this “synthetic” function are advised to obtain a BS degree in chemistry at the undergraduate level, rather than a degree in pharmaceutical chemistry. Additional training at the MS and/or PhD level in synthetic or medicinal chemistry is often needed to pursue this career.
In contrast, the “analytical” pharmaceutical chemist is typically involved in devising analytical procedures that ensure that the drug produced for sale is pure and that the drug and its metabolites can be detected in an individual taking the drug. This latter aspect is critical for necessary toxicological and pharmacological studies to determine if the drug is both efficacious and safe and at what levels. These kind of analytical skills also play a critical role in forensic applications.
Students interested in this “analytical” focus, which is the focus of the pharmaceutical chemistry BS degree at USciences, will often enter the pharmaceutical industry or forensic laboratory directly with a BS degree, although advanced degrees may also be obtained. Students with this degree may also be involved in clinical trials of new drugs or in sales.
Pharmaceutical chemists are in high demand within the vast pharmaceutical industry and are also employed in government regulatory agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). They may be involved in drug synthesis or drug analysis or as a technical representative in the marketing division of a company.