Medicinal chemistry research is applied in the area of pharmaceuticals, focusing on small organic molecules, synthetic organic chemistry, natural products, computational chemistry, enzymology, chemical biology and structural biology that lead to the discovery and development of new therapeutic agents. Medical chemists work in government agencies, pharmaceutical companies and academic environments. Although most practitioners spend the day in a laboratory, some move into management positions. The economy, research grants and government regulations influence the job availability in medical chemistry research. Because this discipline is located at the intersection of chemistry and pharmacology, it has many requirements.
Medicinal chemistry research is an interdisciplinary science that requires practitioners to have strong background in chemistry and a broad understanding of biology related to cellular drug targets. They require a master’s degree in pharmaceutical chemistry and a doctoral degree in areas such as pharmaceutics, pharmacodynamics or drug discovery. A medicinal chemist uses concepts learned in fields such as molecular biology, organic chemistry, pharmacology, physiology and biochemistry. Most training regimens also include a 2 or more years postdoctoral fellowship after the Ph.D. Job seekers can also find employment opportunities with a master’s degree, although there are more positions available for those with a higher level of education. Most employees in medicinal chemistry research also earn a Pharm.D (doctor of pharmacy) and some of them have a RPh’s (Registered Pharmacists).
The majority of individuals who work in medicinal chemistry research have graduate degrees in organic chemistry rather than in medicinal chemistry, because most broad synthetic activity occurs in this field. However, graduate level programs in medicinal chemistry can be found in research departments. The American Chemical Society states that pharmaceutical companies hire employees with experience in research, at least two years of post-doctoral experience and advanced degrees, mostly in organic chemistry.
Working in medicinal chemistry research requires a broad set of skills. Medicinal chemists must be familiar with research methods, mathematical equation modeling and data analysis. They must have an analytical mind in order to conduct a thorough, precise and objective research and a critical mind to evaluate any problems that might occur. Communication and teamwork skills are also required so they are able to share the findings with scientists and non-scientists once the work is completed.
A specialist working in medicinal chemistry research is responsible for the discovery of new drugs used to treat diseases. Besides conducting a chemical research, medicinal chemists also develop guidelines to make sure the new drug can be safely used. It is their duty to ensure the safety of the consumers and to seek a very safe agent that the patient can use over long periods of time.