Description of specialty

Pharmaceutical medicine is concerned with the discovery and development, evaluation, licensing and monitoring of medicines and other medicinal products. Pharmaceutical physicians generally work outside of the NHS in one the following areas:

  • pharmaceutical industry
  • drug regulatory authorities
  • contract research organisations
  • academia.

Pharmaceutical medicine is based on the knowledge and understanding of how medicines work, the limitations and variability of response to treatments, and how therapies can be used optimally in clinical practice.

Pharmaceutical medicine is distinct from, but has some similarities with, the specialty of clinical pharmacology and therapeutics, which is an NHS-based clinical specialty that focuses on the safe, effective and economic use of medicines.

Pharmaceutical physicians work in these main areas:

  • in defining the biological mechanisms of disease, enabling medicines to be identified that specifically target illness
  • as clinical research physicians responsible for the design, management and implementation of clinical trials and working with a team of clinical investigators and supporting clinical staff
  • as medical advisers in the area of medical affairs, a role that is concerned with the life cycle management of licensed medicines available to prescribers and the NHS
  • as medical assessors in regulatory agencies, approving new medicines for use.

Pharmaceutical medicine is unlike clinical pharmacology and therapeutics and other clinically-based specialties, as its practitioners rarely work directly with patients. Therefore, the services are not described in the conventional sense of services provided directly to patients (such as clinics). However, the different roles and services all have patient benefit and safety as their ultimate aim.