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Is a Career in the Pharmaceutical Sciences Right for Me?

What Are the Pharmaceutical Sciences?

The pharmaceutical sciences combine a broad range of scientific disciplines that are critical to the discovery and development of new drugs and therapies. Pharmaceutical sciences can be broadly classified into the following main categories, with many specialized fields within each category.

My education in the pharmaceutical sciences continues to open doors to career opportunities I never dreamed of when I entered pharmacy school 36 years ago. From various positions in research and marketing in the pharmaceutical industry to my current position at GPIA, where I work with the FDA and Congress, I have used my education to improve the health of patients all over the world by facilitating access to effective pharmaceutical drug products. My career gets more exciting every day.
Alice E. Till, Ph.D.
President, Generic Pharmaceutical Industry Association

Drug Discovery and Design deals with the design and synthesis of new drug molecules. This category includes specialized fields of study such as medicinal chemistry, combinatorial chemistry and biotechnology.

Drug Delivery is concerned with the design of dosage forms -- such as tablets, injections or patches -- that will deliver the drug to the site of action in a patient. The purpose is to ensure that the drug arrives in the right concentration and at the right time. Specialty fields within Drug Delivery include pharmaceutics, biomaterials, and pharmacokinetics.

Drug Action examines how the drug itself actually works in a living system. The action of the drug can be studied at the molecular level, in a cell, an organ, and in animals. Specialty fields within Drug Action include molecular biology, pharmacology, pharmacodynamics, toxicology and biochemistry.

Clinical Sciences are concerned with the use of drugs in the treatment of diseases. Particular properties of new drugs -- such as efficacy, adverse effects, drug-to-drug interaction, bioavailability -- are determined in clinical trials in humans.

Drug Analysis involves separating, identifying, and quantifying the components of a sample. Analytical chemistry is an important component of all areas of the pharmaceutical sciences.

Cost Effectiveness of Medicines (Pharmacoeconomics) examines the economic savings from the use of one drug rather than others, with regard to costs for the drug itself and patient management (e.g., compliance, quality of life, physician visits, potential hospitalization).

Regulatory Affairs promotes communication, understanding and cooperation between scientists from industry and academia and the regulatory authorities worldwide who govern approval and distribution, by means of developing regulatory guidelines.

For me, this is a very exciting time to be in pharmaceutics. We have the opportunity to work with medicinal chemists to design the drugs of the future, with optimal delivery characteristics. It is particularly gratifying to see how cell culture models developed in our laboratory at the University of Kansas in the late 1980s are being used by the pharmaceutical industry to optimize the delivery characteristics of drug candidates.
Ronald T. Borchardt, Ph.D.
Solon E. Summerfield Professor and Chairman
Department of Pharmaceuticals Chemistry
The University of Kansas

More and more, these categories are beginning to overlap. For example, a scientific engineer working in Drug Delivery needs to understand how toxicology affects Drug Action, and a chemist working in Drug Discovery and Design must know about the pharmacokinetics of Drug Delivery. For this reason, pharmaceutical scientists are required to have a broad base of knowledge in a variety of sciences.

Career Opportunities in the Pharmaceutical Sciences

Over the years, pharmaceutical scientists have been instrumental in discovering and developing innovative drugs that save thousands of people's lives and improve the quality of life for many others. Pharmaceutical scientists can pursue a variety of jobs. They are employed by pharmaceutical companies, they work as researchers and professors at universities, as regulatory scientists for agencies like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and as researchers at national laboratories such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

How Do I Know If a Career in the Pharmaceutical Sciences is Right for Me?

I can't imagine a more challenging and rewarding career than pharmaceutical formulation research and development. To be a part of a team which transforms a chemical powder into a medicinal product is interesting, exciting and greatly satisfying work. Each day is filled with new challenges and the potential for new discoveries that will result in improved therapy for patients around the world.
Kenneth Heimlich, Ph.D.
Executive Director (Retired)
Pharmaceutical Research and Development, Merck

If you are a student who enjoys science classes and wants to pursue a science-based career, if you like to work hands-on in the laboratory, if you have a desire to contribute to the health and well-being of society through the development of medicines and therapies -- if any or all of these things are true for you, then the pharmaceutical sciences may be a good career choice for you.

How Can I Become a Pharmaceutical Scientist?

I think of myself primarily as a pharmacist, and secondly as a pharmaceutical scientist. One reason I enjoy the academic setting so much is that I have a chance to help prepare tomorrow's pharmacists for the scientific challenges that lie ahead. Another reason is that the research that I do is basic enough to satisfy my intellectual curiosity, yet applied enough to contribute to improvements in drug therapy.
Jennifer B. Dressman, Ph.D.
Professor, Institute of Pharmaceutical Technology
University of Frankfurt

As you can tell by reading this brochure, the pharmaceutical sciences encompass many disciplines, and there are just as many ways to become a pharmaceutical scientist. You can get an undergraduate or advanced college degree in pharmacy, chemistry, biology, medicine, engineering, or a related field. As an alternative, you can become a pharmaceutical scientist after obtaining an undergraduate degree in economics, marketing, business or other non-scientific field. It takes a multi-disciplinary effort and a variety of skills to develop good medicines.

*Excerpted from a web page produced by the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists (AAPS)

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