Let’s Talk: Medicinal Chemistry!


What is medicinal chemistry?

Medicinal chemistry involves the design, chemical synthesis, development, and study of bioactive molecules, better known as drugs. These include both small molecules and larger carbon-containing molecules, called organic compounds, which often consist of proteins. Medicinal chemistry intersects significantly with biochemistry, organic chemistry, pharmacology, and computational chemistry. Medicinal chemists perform tests on novel synthetic organic compounds to test for biological activity, potency, toxicity, and distribution throughout the body. They also optimize these compounds for large-scale production and for use as drugs in the human body.

What does it take to be a medicinal chemist?

Medicinal chemists must have a strong background in organic chemistry, as well as an understanding of the biology of drug targets in cells. Most medicinal chemists have a PhD in organic chemistry. A good medicinal chemist has interdisciplinary knowledge and is able to interpret biological and genomic data, , predict biochemical reactions, and may also work with computational chemistry software. For more information about organic chemistry and compound synthesis, see our blog on Organic Chemistry.

Where is the field of medicinal chemistry heading?

Targeted therapies are becoming increasingly common, rather than using broad-spectrum chemotherapies, and advances in medicinal chemistry reflect this. Many compounds have been screened and developed for their ability to target individual enzymes or proteins that cause cancerous behaviours in cells. For example, classical chemotherapeutic compounds such as cisplatin have been modified to decrease their toxicity to healthy cells. Medicinal chemistry is also increasingly performed in silico using computer-aided molecular modeling technologies instead of in the lab, increasing the cost-effectiveness of drug development and reducing chemical use.


Let’s Talk: Chemistry!