What is Drug Research and Development?

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  • Written By: Alexis W.
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 11 September 2019
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Drug research and development is the process by which new drug treatments and theories are created. Most drugs are a combination of many different elements, such as chemicals, natural matter, bacteria, and other elements from the periodic table. In order to find a cure for ailments, drug research and development must be conducted to demonstrate how a given combination of materials will work on the ailment within the body.

The process of drug research and development is generally a long and complicated process. Some scientists aim to specifically create a drug designed to cure or treat some specific ailment. As such, they begin with the current scientific understanding of the causes of that illness and then try to create formulas and combinations that will treat that specific illness. Other times, scientists simply begin experimenting with what different compounds will do and then determine whether those compounds may be effective at treating any problems that occur in the human body.

Generally, after a formula is developed, it must go through numerous phases of testing. It may be tested in test tubes to see how the formula reacts. Then, it is normally tested in lab rats, mice or other animals. Before it can be tested on humans, it generally must be demonstrated to be reasonably effective and safe in these animals, which may be a long process.


When a drug is ready to be tested on humans, there are normally strict regulations for that phase of the drug research and development. Clinical trials must be conducted that follow specific protocols, such as getting informed consent from patients and having a control group that does not receive that treatment so the results can be compared. Local government bodies, such as the Food and Drug Administration in the United States, oversee the means in which a drug is tested.

After extensive clinical trials, a drug will eventually be released on the market. It may be released as either a prescription or non-prescription drug, depending on the nature of the medication. Generally, the inventor or company who created the formula will receive a patent on that formula, which means only that company can sell or profit from the product for a given period of time.

Some drug research and development is conducted in educational institutions, such as universities and hospitals. Other R&D is conducted by drug companies who employ their own scientists or who work with academics. The process can be very costly and it can take years for a drug to move from conception to ultimate approval.



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