The discovery of new drugs is one of the most exciting and rapidly developing fields in science. There is a growing need for safer, more effective pharmaceuticals against old diseases (like cancer), new ones (such as HIV/AIDS) and diseases that are becoming more widespread (such as malaria and tuberculosis). Medicinal chemistry looks at how to find drugs and how to make them. The technologies used in medicinal chemistry are changing quickly, and there are other, new factors influencing the way we do this science - for example in today’s world it is increasingly important to make drugs affordably.
What will you study?
An essential component of medicinal chemistry is understanding how drugs work on the molecular level. If we can do this, we can design better medicines that are more powerful and more selective. Why are some compounds useful, while other, related ones are toxic? What kinds of properties of drugs help ensure they will be active, and reach the right part of the body? Why do drugs that are mirror images of each other have different effects, like thalidomide where only one optical isomer causes birth defects?
Your studies in medicinal chemistry will involve looking at the chemistry of natural and synthetic compounds, how we find them, work out what they are, and how we make them. You will look at the molecular mechanism of the action of compounds, and how drugs can affect metabolism and genetics. It is this broad range of units, and the immensely important work medicinal chemists do, that make this such an engrossing area of study.
What do Medicinal Chemists do?
Medicinal chemists work in universities, corporate laboratories, pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries and hospitals. They possess strong analytical and laboratory expertise in identifying possible curative and preventative drugs for diseases such as cancer, AIDS, hepatitis, tuberculosis and even the common cold. Graduates with this major are eligible for membership of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute (RACI).