This article focuses on prescription drugs and pharmaceuticals as the role of biomedical engineering within the pharmaceutical industry. In writing about this subject, the author is conscious of the deep, sometimes hidden notion lying just under the skin that drug companies take patients, physicians and
medical providers for a ride.
What is important to note is that biological research, medical scientific reports, and testing of pharmaceutical products and drugs are all intertwined. Most research in the pure sciences category is funded by corporations. Trusts and institutions have specific instructions from these donors detailing the scope of research to conduct, and will only fund such research. Thus there exists a close link between research, scientific reporting and pharmaceutical companies, and that link is necessary.
Most people do not realize that before a prescription drug is released in the market to treat a disease, malfunction, or ailment, it is thoroughly and rigorously tested before it can be used. Most countries follow the principles laid down by every nations’ leading medical practitioners, in an organization called the World Health Organization, or WHO.
In testing new drug formulations, intensive research involving thousands and thousands of experiments of various combinations of human blood, tissue, organs, human liquids (yes, we all have various forms of liquids in our body apart from water), in millions of variations have to be performed. This process can take months and years before a finding on the new drug can be arrived at.
In this stringent and lengthy research process, biomedical engineering is the most important role. To process and test millions and trillions of combinations, the use of engineering is required – specifically genetic engineering, tissue engineering, and combination of fluids engineering, for example. To compare the efficacy or to adjust the combination, the use of computers and advanced software is important, because it speeds up the process. Imagine Marie Curie and her husband spending hours and hours in an ill lit laboratory using varying ingredients to discover radium! It was in the twilight of their years that they found that radium! Today, testing varying ingredients is relatively easier, due to meticulous records that are being maintained, and again the use of advanced computer software which processes trillions of combinations at a time, finding a solution almost within a day or two. This may be a slight exaggeration, but when you compare it with ages gone by, when scientists of those days of yore did not have ‘engineering’ tools such as computers, imagine how much time, how much energy must have been spent!
This extensive research is a reason why some drugs are expensive. More often than not, fingers are pointed at biologists and the medical fraternity, and their so called ‘collusion’ with drug and pharmaceutical companies is derided and looked upon with suspicion. Yes, there are some who overlook their sense of responsibility, but a majority of them, silent as they are, are dedicated biomedical engineers and other medical professionals who have given themselves to a life of experimentation, sharing, and caring for people like you and me.
All this pharmaceutical research requires funds to match biological findings, medical fraternity to provide the basic data for research, and advanced technology, which is expensive: But, the combination of these provides patients of varying diseases with pharmaceutical products and a better chance of survival than ever before.