Thursday, August 31, 2006

How Medicines Work

I never was big on biology. It's interesting, but the physical sciences seemed to make more sense to me. Because I hadn't studied a lot of biology, I wasn't aware of how little we understand about how our body works. So when I started working at a pharmaceutical company over 17 years ago, I was very surprised at how little folks knew about how drugs actually worked on the body. A company puts together a package to show a drug is safe (the do no harm part of the Hippocratic oath ) and efficacious to satisfy regulatory agencies. But knowing a drug is safe and effective doesn't mean you understand the mechanism of action. OK, I'm naive...but I was just astounded.

I was reminded of this again today when I read this article. Think of the hundreds of years it took to figure out menthol provides some sort of pain relief through a 'cooling' effect. I wonder how many people died because they applied something poisonous for pain relief before stumbling on menthol. Think of the millions of people that have used menthol preparations over the years for symptomatic pain relief. Many OTC analgesics today (like Bengay and Icy Hot for example) have menthol as one of their medicinal ingredients. However, only recently has the receptor that responds to menthol to produce an analgesic effect been identified! Hopefully that understanding will give some insights that will help folks come up with improved therapies for pain relief.

I'm still astounded how little we understand about medicines!

"My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble mind."
-- Albert Einstein

1 comment:

Dianne said...

I like the article's reference to how rats with injured paws responded to various topical solutions. Can you imagine having a job giving rats paw injuries all day? Of course, maybe the rats injured themselves and then limped in for some free medical attention. Maybe that's why it took so long to figure out... waiting for enough rats to check themselves in!