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About medicinal chemistry

What is medicinal chemistry?

Medicinal chemistry encompasses the design, optimization, development and synthesis of chemical compounds for use as pharmaceutical drugs. It is inherently a multidisciplinary topic, combining expertise from chemistry and pharmacology to identify, develop and synthesize chemical agents followed by studies investigating their interactions with biological targets to understand and evaluate the medicinal effects of the drug, its metabolism and side-effects.

To summarise as simply as possible, it is the design of small molecules for the potential treatment of a disease.

What is a medicinal chemist?

A medicinal chemist is a scientist that applies their knowledge of chemistry, biochemistry and physiology to generate solutions to health related problems and design new drugs for treating disease.

What do medicinal chemists do?

Medicinal chemistry is an encouraging field as it connects many scientific disciplines and enables collaborations with other scientists within novel drug development and research.

Medicinal chemists utilize their chemistry training in the process of synthesizing new pharmaceuticals. Additionally, they enhance the process by which existing pharmaceuticals are made. They are committed to drug discovery and development and are interested with the isolation of medicinal agents discovered in plants, as well as the creation of novel synthetic chemical compounds. A majority of medicinal chemists work within multidiscipline teams including pharmacologists, toxicologists, microbiologist, theoretical chemists, biopharmacists and biologists. Together, this versatile team incorporates sophisticated analytical techniques to synthesize and test new drug products and develop cost- and time-effective means of drug production.

How to get into medicinal chemistry?

Traditionally medicinal chemists will possess a degree in a chemistry discipline (such as organic chemistry). Individuals with research experience and advanced qualifications (such as MSc and PhD) are more likely to progress into careers as medicinal chemists. A number of universities have medicinal chemistry departments, often associated with other disciplines. Generally, pharmaceutical companies prefer to hire individuals who in addition to the above, also possess at least two years of post-doctoral experience.

What careers do medicinal chemists typically have?

Many medicinal chemists initially begin their careers in the lab and then move on to other laboratory careers such as process chemistry, formulation chemistry, quality control or quality assurance. Others may also move to non-laboratory careers such as regulatory affairs, intellectual property (patents), project management, or technology transfer. For further information, view our helpful infographic on “Where can chemistry take you?”.


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What does MedChemNet cover?

  • Antagonists/agonists/modulators/inhibitors of…protein/cell type 
  • Computational design and in silico testing, including docking and molecular modelling 
  • Identification of new targets for therapeutics e.g. using chemical probes to discover epigenetic drug targets 
  • ADME and toxicology studies 
  • Design of synthetic drug-delivery carriers (e.g., polymers) and chemical entities to aid delivery
  • Intellectual property- and economic-related issues (e.g., pharmaceutical industry–academia relations, open source collaborations, changing patent environment in the face of open innovation/open source research 
  • Biophysical techniques for studying compound interactions and characterizing compounds 
  • Drug-discovery technologies, such as high throughput screening, animal models
  • Chemical biology (often involving compounds produced through synthetic chemistry e.g. nucleic acid-based drugs, peptidomimetics)


What does it not cover?

  • Formulations
  • Any in-human or clinical trials 
  • Evaluations of drugs already in the clinic
  • Devices
  • Diagnostics (exception being theranostics) 
  • Biologics, e.g., antibodies
  • Isolation of natural products (unless tested for some therapeutic purpose)


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