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What is Pharmaceutical Research and Development?

By Harriette Halepis
Updated May 16, 2024
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Nearly every large pharmaceutical company has a pharmaceutical research and development department. In addition, private laboratories work towards pharmaceutical research and development on a regular basis. The goal of this type of research is to develop newer and more effective treatments for a number of different ailments.

While it's true that there are effective treatments for many illnesses, this is not the case with every condition. Some people suffer from diseases that do not have any therapeutic choices. Thus, these people must follow a drug routine that may not be beneficial. Through pharmaceutical research and development, these illnesses may have viable treatments in the future. In addition, some pharmaceutical companies also work towards creating better medications than the ones that already exist.

Often, pharmaceutical research and development leads to scientific breakthroughs that can mean the elimination of an illness. While this is rare, without research and development, cures to ailments would never be discovered. Each laboratory works towards perfecting existing medication as well as finding a cure for incurable illnesses.

Some of the diseases that are studied by almost every laboratory include cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. By working towards a cure or treatment for these ailments, people who suffer from any of these diseases may be able to live longer. New medications are being developed every single day across the globe. When an improved medication replaces an existing drug, scientists come one step closer to finding a cure or providing a treatment for a formerly untreatable disease. Within the United States, billions of dollars are invested in research and development on a yearly basis.

An astronomical amount of substances are tested for human usage regularly. Out of all the substances tested, only a very small fraction are deemed safe for human usage. Thus, the amount of money needed to produce new drugs is vast. Only large pharmaceutical companies can afford to test new substances for a wide array of ailments. This is precisely why smaller laboratories only focus on one or two illnesses.

Pharmaceutical research and development is important, though there has also been some controversy surrounding research conducted by large corporations. Some people claim that the results provided by large pharmaceutical companies may be biased. This type of reasoning is based upon the fact that pharmaceutical companies manufacture, sell, and profit from medication. Thus, it is within the best interests of these companies to claim that their medication works better than any other. However, those companies in question largely dispute any claim of this type.

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Discussion Comments

By pleonasm — On Jul 25, 2012

@browncoat - It's not black and white though. They do tend to hold onto patents longer than perhaps they should, but as soon as they lose that patent the market is flooded with generic medicines and they lose their income. And that income is what pays for the development of other medications.

It's a very risky business, and it only works because of the huge amounts of money they can make. Millions are spent on developing medicines that may end up not doing any good at all, or may even be harmful. But those options need to be pursued or the right medications will never be found.

By browncoat — On Jul 24, 2012

@Mor - Cancer seems like the scourge of our age sometimes. I know so many people who have been affected by it, one way or another. I was really impressed when my friend went after a career in this kind of research, although he claims that pharmaceutical research and development jobs are fairly lucrative as well.

The only thing that would really give me pause about this kind of job would be the shady tactics that some of the companies seem to indulge in at times. Releasing drugs without testing them properly, or changing the drugs slightly so that they can keep their patents, for example. It seems like a really awful thing to do when you consider who needs those medicines.

By Mor — On Jul 24, 2012

One of the misconceptions that often shows up in pharmaceutical news is the idea that they are researching a "cure for cancer". In reality, cancer is not a single disease that happens to attack different areas of the body. It is a variety of diseases that work in roughly the same way (the uncontrollable growth of cells).

So, if you originally have liver cancer, and it spreads, you don't have brain cancer as well as liver cancer, you have liver cancer cells growing on your brain.

Since the cells in your liver and the cells in your brain are so completely different it's going to be almost impossible to find a cure that will affect them both. Or only affect one and leave the other alone.

They are looking for ways of beating cancer, but not Cancer with a capital C. They are looking for methods of containing and preventing all the separate types of cancers.

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