Industrial pharmacists are involved in the discovery and development of safe, effective drugs and medicines. They can work at any stage of the process, including research, development, clinical trials, overseeing production, quality testing, marketing and applying to have the drug legally registered.
Apart from discovering and developing drugs and turning them into useful medicines, industrial pharmacists also improve existing medicines.
Within the pharmaceutical industry, they are very much part of a team. For example, they might work alongside pharmacologists, biochemists, biotechnologists, statisticians, toxicologists and chemical engineers.
The industrial pharmacist's involvement in the project might begin in the research and development stage. Researching and developing a new medicine takes twelve years, on average.
It can begin with the study of how a disease spreads and its effect on the body. Then, it might involve testing thousands of chemical compounds to see which one might work best in having an effect on the development or actions of the disease.
The process of medicine formulation involves selecting the appropriate chemical compound and turning it into a useful product that can deliver the drug safely and effectively to the patient's body. Here, the industrial pharmacist might also help to decide which form the drug should take, for example, as a liquid, tablet, ointment or injection.
The next stage in development is to assess the strength, purity and stability of the medicine.
In clinical trials, industrial pharmacists work closely with doctors, nurses and other medical staff. Clinical trials usually involve four stages: tests on healthy volunteers, then a small number of patients, then larger-scale tests on patients and, finally, studies in patients after the drug has become available to buy and use. Clinical trials therefore involve the industrial pharmacist in close contact with patients. Pharmacists involved in other stages of the process will not usually have any patient contact.
Some industrial pharmacists specialise in making the drug (manufacturing and production). To begin with, they have to create a process that will make the drug in the same way each time, using the same machinery and technology. This is known as 'standardisation'. They also have to produce the drug on a large scale, compared to the small amounts that will have been made in the laboratory during the development phase. This is known as 'scaling up'.
Other industrial pharmacists work in quality assurance, making sure the final product is of the quality needed if it is to be sold to and used by the public.
This work involves making tests at each stage of the process. For example, they check the concentration and purity of raw materials, through to the shelf life and stability of the finished product.
Industrial pharmacists can become Qualified Persons (QP), giving them responsibility for making sure that medicines have the correct ingredients, in the right amounts.
Apart from laboratory work, some industrial pharmacists work in offices, for example, in the pharmaceutical company's registration department. There are also general management roles.
Before the company can market a new or improved drug, it must get a licence from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). In the registration department, pharmacists collect the relevant data for presentation with the licence application to MHRA.
Other industrial pharmacists act as medical representatives. This is a marketing role, making doctors, community and hospital pharmacists aware of the new drug's uses and effects. This side of the work can involve a lot of travel.
Some pharmacists provide an information service about the company's products. They might use online databases to search medical and scientific literature, in order to answer a customer enquiry.
Pharmacists in information work have a variety of duties, including writing technical booklets, approving the content of advertising campaigns for the medicine, and organising medical libraries.
Personal Qualities and Skills
- A high level of scientific ability and an interest in fighting illness and disease.
- Practical laboratory skills and familiarity with computers.
- Communication skills, for example, to explain how a new medicine works to a doctor or hospital pharmacist.
- A thorough, methodical and logical approach to your work.
- Patience and perseverance - it can take many years to research and develop a new medicine.
- Teamwork skills, to work alongside other scientists and medical professionals.
- Report-writing skills, for example, if you're working in a registration department.
Pay And Opportunities
Employers of industrial pharmacists
Employers include major pharmaceutical companies and producers of agricultural and veterinary products. Opportunities for industrial pharmacists occur in towns and cities throughout the UK.
Entry requirements for degrees vary so it is important to check details with individual universities carefully.