Pharmaceutical chemists are involved in the development and assessment of therapeutic compounds. Pharmaceutical chemistry encompasses drug design, drug synthesis , and the evaluation of drug efficacy (how effective it is in treating a condition) and drug safety. Prior to the nineteenth century, schools of pharmacy trained pharmacists and physicians how to prepare medicinal remedies from natural organic products or inorganic materials. Herbal medications and folk remedies dating back to ancient Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and Asian societies were administered without any knowledge of their biological mechanism of action. It was not until the early 1800s that scientists began extracting chemicals from plants with purported therapeutic properties to isolate the active components and identify them. By discovering and structurally characterizing compounds with medicinal activity, chemists are able to design new drugs with enhanced potency and decreased adverse side effects.
Drug discovery is the core of pharmaceutical chemistry. The drug discovery process includes all the stages of drug development, from targeting a disease or medical condition to toxicity studies in animals, or even, by some definitions, testing the drug on human subjects.