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Discovery

The average medicine costs Pfizer approximately £500 million to bring to the market, and the process can take 10 to 12 years.

Our researchers begin by identifying an unmet medical need or a condition for which there is no treatment. They also research diseases that could benefit from a new treatment. First, they have to identify what causes the disease or condition and understand how it causes harm, or change, to the body. Once this is understood they can begin to search for a compound that can intervene and treat the condition.

A number of compounds will be identified as having potential to achieve the desired effect on the body through a process called ‘High Throughput Screening’ (HTS). This involves the use of robotics, data processing and control software, liquid handling devices and sensitive detectors and allows a researcher to conduct millions of tests in a relatively short space of time. These tests will find compounds that can change the way a disease acts in the body. Once some potentially useful compounds (‘hits’) have been identified, teams of chemists and biologists create a range of related new chemicals with specific structural changes to optimise the impact of the medicine in terms of efficacy and safety. This process is highly skilled, and relies on intuition, expertise and broad knowledge of the complexity of different biochemical reactions taking place in the human body. Sometimes as many as a thousand new molecules are developed until we arrive at what we believe to be the best candidate to take forward into clinical development.

At this stage, up to 10,000 compounds will be identified as a possible treatment for the specific disease or condition.