Medicinal Chemistry/Pharmaceuticals

Medicinal chemists are known to explore new areas and work to improve human health and reduce suffering. A good imagination and persistence are required.

Typical Job Functions

Medicinal and pharmaceutical chemists apply their chemistry training to the process of synthesizing new pharmaceuticals. They also improve the processes by which existing pharmaceuticals are made.

Medicinal chemistry links many scientific disciplines and allows for collaboration with other scientists in researching and developing new drugs. Being a team player with good written and verbal communication skills are invaluable to success in this field.

Medicinal chemists are focused on drug discovery and development and are concerned with the isolation of medicinal agents found in plants, as well as the creation of new synthetic drug compounds. Their teams use sophisticated analytical techniques to synthesize and test new drug products and to develop the most cost-effective, environmentally friendly means of production.

Potential careers in this field include:

  • Basic research into how various chemicals affect biological systems
  • Drug development, including formulating drugs used to treat patients with diseases
  • Testing potential new bio-active compounds in patient populations
  • Developing guidelines for how new pharmaceuticals will be used

Career Paths

Many medicinal chemists start out in the lab and then move on to other laboratory careers (e.g., process chemistry, formulation chemistry, quality control or quality assurance). Or they may choose to move to non-laboratory careers (e.g., regulatory affairs, intellectual property (patents), project management, or technology transfer.

Getting Started

Generally, pharmaceutical companies prefer to hire people with:

  • Research experience
  • Advanced degrees (especially organic chemistry)
  • Two-years minimum of postdoctoral experience
  • Synthetic organic chemistry skills

Most chemists in traditional research careers are Ph.D. chemists, while chemists with B.S. degrees generally serve as research technicians.

You can place yourself in a competitive position by getting as much industrial experience as possible, with a strong background in organic chemistry and biochemistry. Some universities have medicinal chemistry departments.

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