Pharmaceutical Science / Drug Discovery


The production of a new drug goes a long way, taking about 10 to 15 years of continuous hard work and research.

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(A) Drug Discovery

The discovery of most drugs follows this typical process:
  1. Exploration of naturally occurring compounds
  2. Compounds are taken through a stringent series of tests to ensure effectiveness and side-effects
  3. Compounds are used as API (Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient) in a drug
    • Only a small percentage (e.g. ~3% for Panadol) of active ingredients is used in producing a drug tablet
    • The rest of the drug tablet is made up of excipients (e.g. lactose)

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(B) Moving towards Drug Production

However, after the long series of tests, there are more work to be done. For development and optimisation of processes to produce new API, many factors such as seed loading, seed size for crystallization, temperature for the processes and solvents used have to be considered.

Furthermore, even if the production process of the drugs are optimized in the laboratary, it is essential to consider different factors in scaling up the process to an industrial level to meet the demands of the customers and ensure economic sustainability.



Drug discovery is very important in ensuring that GSK remains strong in the pharmaceutical sector. One of the things that set GSK apart from other pharmaceutical companies is that, in GSK, there is a exceptionally strong pipeline for the production of new drugs. For GSK, the search for new drugs is continuously on and, once a new API is identified, the company works hard to push forward the development of the drug to introduce the drug to the market in order to help the patients as soon as possible.





Scaling Up the Production Process

Throughout the development process of a pharmaceutical product, the product undergoes process development, optimization and, eventually, mass production via scaling up of the production processes. Efficient computers are used in the production process - the production building, which is 4 storeys high, is automated to a very large extent, requiring very few workers.

Our host, Alan, from GSK pointed out the difference between a pharmaceutical plant and chemical plant.

Pharmaceutical Plant
Chemical Plant
[1] Takes in 2 or more reagents and forms an active ingredient, which has a larger molecular size
[1] Breaks larger compounds into smaller molecules (e.g. fractional distillation of petroleum)
[2] Products are made by batches
[2] Production process is continuous and always ongoing


For GSK's operations in Singapore, engineers work on optimising the process to produce the API. API’s are often complex organic molecules. In Singapore, engineers work on how molecules can be produced from simpler organic compounds. After that, they must plan and confirm a series of processes that can manufacture the API on an industrial scale with minimal tolerances for impurities.

In addition, the Research and Development industry in GSK focuses on ensuring sustainability. This is done by developing 2nd generation processes which seeks to reduce the use of energy and raw materials.

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