It would be incredibly difficult to find a member of the US population who has never been to the doctor, bought medicine or used pharmaceutical treatments. It would be almost equally difficult to find even a handful of people, however, who know exactly where their medicine has come from.
This short guide will touch briefly on the manufacturing process of medicine, what types of medicine are made through what methods, how long a medicine generally stays on the market and how to find out more about the pharmaceuticals on your health care list.
Depending on the type of medicine, it will be manufactured in different ways. Traditional medicines are generally made through the mixing of chemicals in a laboratory, while biopharmaceuticals – or biologics – are made using parts of a living organism, grown within a cell. Others, such as penicillin, are manufactured by harnessing the byproducts of organisms such as fungus.
Whichever method or medicine is being produced, during the manufacturing process the drugs or substances must be trialed and tested in order to determine their effectiveness at treating an illness, to uncover any side effects and to ensure their safety for being sold on the mass market. These trials can take place on the site of clinical trials experts who test products such as tablets and capsules, creams, suppositories and drug substances to help get the FDA approved for general use.
During the clinical trial manufacturing process, such companies will also support the packaging and labeling of a medicine so that you recognize it in your first aid kit or on the pharmacist shelf.
Depending on the effectiveness and safety of a medicine, it can last on the market for years and even decades. Penicillin, mentioned earlier, is now produced in remarkably small quantities due to its lack of profitability, but remains the only antibiotic that kills syphilis bacteria in the fetus and has been a staple of medicine since its placement on the market in 1945.
Previously grown and manufactured in the United States, the world’s penicillin supplies now predominantly hail from China and India.
Other medicines, such as vaccinations, are shorter lived as they are often produced as and when they are necessary. It is not hard to see, though, why a medicine hangs around for some time once they have been produced, once you consider how long the manufacturing and testing process can take; potentially years of experimentation and clinical trials are required to put an FDA approved medicine on the market.
Asking about your medicines
If you wish to better understand where a precise medicine has come from, where it has been manufactured and how, there are a number of excellent online resources such as the FDA and the NHS websites.
It is also worth consulting your doctor if you have any concerns or queries about your medicines, as they will be happy to help explain – or look into – the components, origins and manufacturing process of any medicine they are recommending to you.