The second half of the 20th Century was a golden age for the pharmaceutical industry, as ever increasingly sophisticated scientific methods were applied to the process of discovering new drugs and then developing them through the pre-clinical and clinical phases. This was very fruitful, scientifically and financially, with a wide range of highly successful new drugs being developed. These included blockbusters such as the very effective cholesterol-lowering drugs such as Lipitor®, which contributed significantly to the reduced rates of mortality from cardiovascular disease, through to drugs such as Viagra® that treated less life-threatening, but socially important, conditions. In the 1970s and 1980s, the pharma industry employed a high percentage of biochemistry graduates and provided jobs that paid well and seemed to have good security. Inevitably, however, as the older blockbusters began to come off patent, a technological ‘arms race’ broke out as companies searched randomly further and further into chemical space to find chemical structures that might be the elusive new blockbuster drug. Companies built bigger and bigger libraries of drugs, in many cases containing more than a million compounds. These required impressive assay technology and massive robotic screens to sift through. At the same time, the cost of getting drugs to market was increasing due to ever-tightening safety regulations, and, despite the application of ever more technology, the failure rate in (and after) clinical trial remained stubbornly high.

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