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Drug Developers


Although ancient civilizations recognized the medicinal value of plants and minerals, research and development of effective drugs did not really begin until the 1800s. The Merck Company of Germany was one of the first major drug manufacturers, producing morphine, codeine, and cocaine, and distributing them around the world. Merck and other European drug companies provided the United States with its pharmaceuticals until after World War I. American companies were then forced to produce new products as European countries cut off the previously available supply. The Upjohn Company, which had patented a pill that broke down when swallowed, invested a great deal of money and effort into research and development in the early 1900s; in these early years, Upjohn developed digitalis (a treatment for heart disease), an antacid, and a laxative, among other new drug products.

The pharmaceutical companies of the United States helped to spur a revolution in medical practice, manufacturing antibiotics, vitamins, penicillin, and other successful products. World War II further increased the demand for new drug products, opening up even more research and development opportunities. Today, nearly 7,000 medicines are in development, 74 percent of which are potentially first-in-class, according to Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA)

In addition to creating drugs and therapies using chemical methods, drug developers are also using biotechnology to create biological drug products that are used for therapeutic or diagnostic purposes, or as dietary supplements. According to the Food & Drug Administration, “biological products can be composed of sugars, proteins, or nucleic acids, or a combination of these substances. They may also be living entities, such as cells and tissues.” In 1982, recombinant human insulin became the first biotech therapy to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Today, biopharmaceutical companies are using biotechnology to develop more than 900 vaccines and medicines to treat more than 100 diseases, according to PhRMA. This area of drug development is expected to experience strong growth during the next decade.

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