A pharmacist’s role in drug discovery

choosing wisely

Pharmacists have a critical role to play in the optimisation of drug discovery research due to the nature and diversity of their drug knowledge. 

The journey a new drug takes from discovery to the market can take up to 13 years and cost up to $2.6 billion.1

Professor of Bio-Pharmaceutical and Structural Chemistry David Hibbs from The University of Sydney School of Pharmacy said ‘the well-rounded nature of pharmacy training makes pharmacy students and pharmacists invaluable [in drug discovery projects]’. 

‘Not only do they [pharmacists] understand pharmacology, but they also know about the field of chemistry, physiology and formulation science; most importantly they are the ultimate drug experts,’ said Professor Hibbs.

He added: ‘Almost every formulation scientist I have met in my career has been a pharmacist, and formulation is one of the key steps in the process of drug design.’

Professor of Bio-Pharmaceutical and Structural Chemistry David Hibbs from The University of Sydney School of Pharmacy

Up to 70% of drugs can fail at any stage throughout the drug discovery process. For example, there is a range of antifungal drugs which are notoriously insoluble. However, if you perform a simple crystallisation, their solubility goes up a hundred-fold.

‘By resolving the solubility issues we can have up to 60% more drugs per year’, Professor Hibbs told Australian Pharmacist.

In addition to improving solubility, another area of focus for Professor Hibbs and his team is antibiotic resistance, which the World Health Organization states will result in more deaths than cancer by the year 2050.2

‘Antimicrobial resistance is currently responsible for over 700,000 deaths a year and by 2050 this number is expected to rise to 10 million deaths’, said Professor Hibbs.

‘I believe antimicrobial resistance is one of the greatest threats to our society today and any kind of research on the topic is going to be of huge benefit to the world.

‘For instance, discovering new antibiotics that are effective against resistant microbes or coming up with new and faster methods of detecting the strain and species of microbes responsible for an infection are areas of focus in this space.’

He added: ‘this is very a problematic area because often patients are given a broad-spectrum antibiotic for a simple infection, which has led to an unprecedented increase in antimicrobial resistance that is continuing to rise rapidly’.

Professor Hibbs explained that ‘Australia is a remarkably well [research] funded country’.

‘The infrastructure available for research has improved greatly over the years with a great deal of core investment on research infrastructure that allows for success in our research projects every single day,’ he said. 

‘Without these new technological advancements, we would not be where we are today with the variety of drugs available for all different sorts of medical conditions.’