Birth of a drug
Birth of a drug

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Birth of a drug

1 The chemical industry

The chemical industry is one of the major contributors to the economies of advanced industrial nations.

The importance of organic chemistry in the pharmaceutical industry becomes apparent in the light of the fact that in the UK alone some £2.2b was spent in 1997 on research and development. Literally thousands of different compounds have to be synthesised and tested in the search for the one that will prove to be a successful and valuable therapeutic agent. As a result, the average cost of developing a new drug is now around £350m. And because of the increasingly stringent safety requirements of the regulatory authorities, the development time has risen from an average of three years in 1960 to 12–15 years today. Given that the patent life of any new drug is around 20 years, this leaves a relatively short time for the pharmaceutical company to recoup its investment. So the stakes are high; but equally, the rewards are great. The worldwide sales of so-called ‘ethical pharmaceutical products’ in 1998 exceeded £150b. Table 1 shows the ten most prescribed drugs in the USA, with all of them exceeding annual sales of £1b. In contrast, the top-selling drug in 1989, Glaxo's Zantac, only managed worldwide sales of £900m!

Table 1: The top ten most prescribed drugs in the US (1998)

Brand Name Generic Name Company Treatment/Use Sales/£m yr−1
Losec omeprazole AstraZeneca ulcers 2490
Zocor simvastatin Merck cholesterol lowering 2470
Prozac fluoxetine Eli Lilley depression 1750
Norvasc amlodipine Pfizer hypertension 1600
Vasotec enalapril Merck hypertension 1500
Claritin loratadine Schering antihistanmine 1440
Lipitor atorvastatin Warner–Lambert cholesterol lowering 1375
Zoloft sertraline Pfizer depression 1150
Paxil paroxetine SmithKline Beecham depression 1100
Augmentin amoxicillin/potassium clavulanate SmithKline Beecham antibiotic 1000

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