Medicinal Chemistry

By Mariza Halliday - Last update

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What is Medicinal Chemistry?

Medicinal Chemistry is the creation and refinement of molecules for the purpose of creating or improving pharmaceutical drugs. Medicinal chemistry is a combination of applied and basic sciences. It encompasses the discovery, development, identification, and interpretation of active compounds at the molecular level.

A medicinal or pharmaceutical chemist researches and creates chemical compounds for use as medicines. By applying chemical research techniques to isolate natural healing agents or develop artificial ones, these chemists play a vital role in the pharmaceutical industry.

What 3rd level courses are available?

Universities and colleges in Ireland are offering Medicinal Chemistry courses in the following subject areas:

  • General Chemistry – Learn the fundamentals of chemistry, atoms, gases, kinetics and much more.
  • Higher diploma in advanced Analytical Chemistry – Gain the knowledge and skills required to work in analytical science in the pharmaceutical, medical device and chemical industries.
  • Applied Science: Analytical Chemistry – Gain the advanced knowledge and hands-on training in modern analytical instrumental techniques.
  • LC Chemistry: Preparation Course for Leaving Cert Chemistry Exam – The objective of this Leaving Certificate course of study is to ensure you will be well prepared to succeed in your Leaving Certificate Chemistry examination.
  • Bachelor of Science in Applied Chemistry with Quality Management – The study of analytical science and topics relevant to the Quality Management industry.
  • Molecules, Medicines and Drugs: A Chemical Story – Explore the discovery and development of a range of drugs and medicines that relieve pain, alleviate symptoms, minimise the risk of infection and effect cures.
  • Molecules in Medicine – Examine the molecular basis of drug action in medicine, covering topics like infectious diseases (bacterial and viral), cancer, heart disease, inflammation and neuropharmacology.

Studying Medicinal Chemistry in college

There are many Medicinal Chemistry courses that take place over 1 year to 4 years depending on the course and modules selected. There are also part-time courses and night courses available so you can be sure to fit in your studies no matter what your schedule is like.

Courses will cover theory work through lectures, assignments, tutorials and taught modules. Assessments will take place on a continuous basis with written examinations and practical assignments combined in order to achieve a qualification. You could also consider work experience or summer research placements in universities. Even doing specialist undergraduate modules or research projects can help to develop and demonstrate a relevant skillset.

Any experience which develops your lab skills gives you an insight into the pharmaceutical industry improves your knowledge and understanding of synthetic organic chemistry, or helps develop your broader transferable skills is valuable.

Getting relevant work experience is important and many employers look for graduates with research experience in either an industrial or an academic laboratory in addition to their academic qualifications.

Work Experience will not only give you the opportunity to obtain a deeper knowledge and understanding of the industry, it will also give you a chance to do some essential networking with other industry professionals and gain valuable contacts for the future.

Career options

After completing a course in Medicinal Chemistry you will be able to get started in a career that uses specific knowledge of Chemistry and pharmaceuticals.

Working hours will depend on whether you are employed by a company with set business hours or if you are contracted to various facilities or companies. The hours are usually full time, Monday to Friday. Weekend or evening work is rare, but may occasionally be required at busy times or when undertaking independent study or research.

You will be primarily lab-based. This means that you need to be happy working at the bench for long periods of time and following health and safety processes. The rest of your time will be spent at a desk or in meetings – you may have a workstation-based in the lab or in a separate work area. You’ll be working in a collaborative environment, usually within a small multidisciplinary project team.

Travel within the working day is unusual, although you may travel to meet clients or to attend conferences. Typical employers in this field include pharmaceutical companies, contract research organisations. Biotech companies, medical charities, research institutes and universities.

Related jobs include:

  • Academic researcher
  • Analytical chemist
  • Biomedical scientist
  • Biotechnologist
  • Clinical research associate
  • Clinical scientist
  • Biochemist
  • Chemical engineer
  • Forensic scientist
  • Medicinal chemist
  • Nanotechnologist
  • Pharmacologist
  • Physician associate
  • Research scientist
  • Scientific laboratory technician
  • Environmental engineer
  • Health and safety inspector
  • Medical science liaison
  • Neuroscientist
  • Patent examiner
  • Science writer
  • Toxicologist

Further study

After completing a course in Medicinal Chemistry you may choose to pursue further study in a specialist field to increase your knowledge base and skillset. Postgraduate study can also be used as a means to change career focus or to gain professional qualifications required to practise in certain career areas such as regulatory affairs, intellectual property (patent work) or other roles in pharmaceutical manufacturing and development.


Why is Medicinal Chemistry important?

Medicinal chemistry touches almost every aspect of our existence in some way. Chemistry is essential for meeting our basic needs of food, clothing, shelter, health, energy, and clean air, water, and soil.

What skills could be helpful for a career in Medicinal Chemistry?

Some skills that could be helpful for a career in Medicinal Chemistry include: an aptitude for chemistry, an interest in and motivation for the discovery process, the ability to design and carry out scientific experiments safely and accurately, analytical skills and the ability to interpret data relating to your experiments.

The ability to work collaboratively within a multidisciplinary team, excellent written communication and report writing skills, effective verbal communication skills to present information clearly to colleagues and clients and the ability to plan and manage your own work effectively are all skills that are beneficial to most industries.

What is the difference between medicinal chemistry and pharmaceutical chemistry?

Medicinal Chemistry is the science of design, development and combination of pharmaceuticals.

Pharmaceutical Chemistry is Medicinal Chemistry plus the science of pharmaceutical and biomedical analysis.

Where can I study Medicinal Chemistry?

Explore your options here

Did You Know?

  • Ancient Egyptians used honey to keep out bacteria from wounds. They also used mouldy bread to prevent infections in wounds.
  • In the late 1800s, being loud, rowdy and drunk in public was seen as abhorrent. So a new drug, Heroin, was developed that was considered to be non-addictive and was recommended as the cure for alcoholism as well as a better alternative to using morphine. It was possible to order heroin, as well as the glass and metal syringes, from a brochure right to your door. It was considered to be a great solution, as it made people more subdued, which was preferable in public.
  • The human body has incredible regenerative powers. For example, your entire brain replaces itself every 2 months; your liver, every 6 weeks; and your epidermis, every 35 days. Even your stomach lining replaces itself every 3 to 4 days. If your body didn’t do this, the strong acids used by your stomach to digest food would also digest your stomach
  • A human body contains copper, zinc, cobalt, calcium, manganese, phosphates, nickel and silicon.
  • There are more living organisms on the skin of a single human being than there are human beings on the surface of the Earth.

Mariza Halliday

Management Science
Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering


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