Pharmaceutical Careers Background
Through trial and error, prehistoric humans discovered that certain plants were effective in treating injuries and fevers. Once a plant was recognized as having medicinal qualities, the information was passed from generation to generation. Gradually, one person in a tribe or social group acquired considerable knowledge of these treatments and was appointed a medicine man or healer. The medicine man (known by different names, such as shaman, witch doctor, and obeah doctor) was frequently thought to have magical or religious powers. Healing was considered an extremely powerful skill. Many of the treatments may have been ineffective, but some of the plants had actual chemical healing powers. In the regions where traditional tribal doctors still practice, ethnobotanists study plants used for cures to extract any potential pharmaceutical benefit.
The oldest known written records relating to pharmaceutical preparations, which are 5,000 years old, come from the Sumerians of the Middle East. Ancient Indian and Chinese cultures used primitive pharmaceutical applications to treat disease that they believed was caused by the presence of spirits in the body. The Babylonians had elaborate laws relating to surgery and medicine. The Assyrians, ancient Greeks, and the Egyptians, who used such medications as castor oil, senna, metallic salts, and a number of plants to cure a variety of illnesses, believed medications and medicine on the whole would purge and purify the body from sin, the cause of most illnesses. In second-century Rome, Galen postulated that disease was caused by an imbalance between body organs and developed a system of classification, compounding, and preparation of medications based on this theory. This was later proved scientifically incorrect. The Arabic world from the seventh century until the Middle Ages also provided significant knowledge concerning medications.
It was not until hundreds of years later that the earliest organized experiments in pharmaceutical preparation began. Exploration of the New World in the 17th century brought many previously unknown substances to the attention of European scientists. Crude experiments were undertaken to determine the toxicity of tobacco, ipecac, cinchona bark, coca leaves, and other substances. The 19th-century French physiologist Francois Magendie is usually credited with the development of organized research in pharmaceutical substances. His studies of the poisons strychnine and carbon monoxide, and the muscle relaxant curare, helped to establish many of the modern principles of pharmacology, an integral part of the modern pharmaceutical industry. In 1852, the American Pharmaceutical Association was formed to help pharmacists and others in the pharmaceutical field organize their professional, political, and economic goals. The Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association (now known as Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America) has represented the U.S. pharmaceutical industry since 1958.
Government intervention in the U.S. pharmaceutical industry began in 1848 with a federal law denying import of substandard or adulterated drugs. The Federal Food and Drug Act of 1906 prohibited interstate commerce in adulterated or mislabeled drugs. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was formed in 1927 to provide legal enforcement for the 1906 act. In 1938, the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act went into effect, requiring strict and detailed studies in the development of medications before they could be made available to the general public.
Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, AIDS, depression, and other major diseases cost Americans more than $640 billion a year in health care expenses. The pharmaceutical industry, through new research techniques in biochemistry, molecular biology, cell biology, immunology, and genetics, is helping to reduce mortality rates and suffering. New drugs have been a major factor in the remarkable reduction in mortality rates from pneumonia, polio, influenza, tuberculosis, syphilis, and other diseases. Drugs such as penicillin and antimalarials have saved millions of people who otherwise would have died or been incapacitated. Patients with heart disease, ulcers, emphysema, and asthma have been greatly aided by advances in cardiovascular drugs, ulcer therapies, and anti-inflammatory drugs.