Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmaceutical Chemistry Explained

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Is there really a difference between these two fields? Many people do view the terms medicinal chemistry and pharmaceutical chemistry as interchangeable. While this is understandable as both disciplines study drugs, the focus of the two are different and worthy of distinction.

Medicinal Chemistry Explained

According to the American Chemical Society, medicinal chemistry is a field within chemistry training that focuses on the study of synthesizing new pharmaceuticals and improving the processes by which existing drugs are manufactured. Medicinal chemistry requires collaboration with chemists from a variety of different fields, including but not limited to biologist, toxicologists, and microbiologists.

Individuals who land a job in the field of medicinal chemistry often graduate with advanced degrees in areas of study such as organic chemistry. In order to get a job with the average pharmaceutical company, a chemist must have research experience. Depending on the position, some need an advanced degree to work as a medicinal chemist. Medicinal chemists with a B.S. alone often find employment as research technicians.

What Medicinal Chemists Do

A lot of the work in medicinal chemistry takes place in the lab. This includes opportunities to work in pharmaceutical, biotechnological, or medical device companies where research skills are used to formulate, characterize, and analyze new compounds. A successful medicinal chemist requires a technical skill set that includes a background knowledge of synthetic organic chemistry, a broad understanding of biology and biological functions, and communication skills to work as part of an effective team in the lab.

Pharmaceutical Chemistry Explained

Pharmaceutical chemistry builds upon the foundations of medicinal chemistry. In the field of pharmaceutical chemistry, individual chemists focus on the study and development of new drugs by learning drug design and synthesis, and then work to bring new drugs to the marketplace. Because it involves aspects of medicinal chemistry and other areas of study, such as biomedical analysis and pharmacology, pharmaceutical chemistry is often considered a broader area of study.

The areas of study mentioned above in medicinal chemistry are often included in coursework during a pharmaceutical chemistry degree program. In addition, individuals learn analytical techniques, pharmacology, metabolism, and even focus on how to create new drug molecules to formulate drugs. Pharmaceutical chemistry includes a focus on fields such as pharmacokinetics, pharmacodynamics, and drug metabolism in an effort to better understand the impact of drugs on the body.

Last but not least, pharmaceutical chemistry involves the steps required to bring drugs to market through pre-clinical phases, IND applications, and clinical trials.

What Pharmaceutical Chemists Do

Upon graduation, an individual working as a pharmaceutical chemist find employment in drug development companies, biotechnology firms, pharmaceutical companies, and research facilities. Most of a pharmaceutical chemist’s time is spent in a laboratory either developing new drugs that remedy diseases, or developing new methods for drug delivery that speed the body’s intake of medications.

The key takeaway is that while these two disciplines share common ground, they are in fact separate fields of study. There are many overlaps though. Pharmaceutical chemistry builds upon the foundation of medicinal chemistry, and provides knowledge that allows individuals to take discoveries from medicinal chemistry into the market for the benefit of others.

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