A Pharmaceutical Scientist Explains How Drugs Know Where to Go in The Body

How does aspirin know to travel to your brain and relieve pain when you take it for a headache?

The simple answer is no: Molecules are unable to move themselves through the body and have no influence over where they end up.

Researchers can, however, chemically change medicine molecules to ensure that they attach firmly where we want them and weakly where we don't.

Pharmaceuticals are made up of more than simply the active ingredient that has a direct effect on the body. Inactive compounds, or chemicals that improve the stability, absorption, taste, and other attributes that allow the medicine to accomplish its job, are also found in medications.

For example, the aspirin you take has chemicals that assist the pill break apart in your body while also preventing it from breaking during transportation.

For the past 30 years, I've been researching medicine delivery as a pharmaceutical scientist. That is, devising techniques and constructing non-drug components that aid in the delivery of a medicine to its intended location in the body.

Let's track a medicine from when it first enters the body to where it finally ends up to better comprehend the thought process behind how different pharmaceuticals are produced.

How drugs are absorbed in the body

When you ingest a pill, the medicine molecules first dissolve in your stomach and intestines before being absorbed into your circulation. Once in the bloodstream, it can travel throughout the body, allowing it to reach various organs and tissues.

Drug molecules have an effect on the body by attaching to certain receptors on cells that can cause a specific reaction.

Despite the fact that medications are designed to target certain receptors in order to create a desired effect, it is hard to prevent them from circulating in the bloodstream and binding to nontarget locations, which might result in undesired side effects.

Drug molecules in your blood decay over time and finally exit your body through your urine. Because of how rapidly your kidney clears asparagusic acid, you may notice a strong odor in your urine after eating asparagus. Similarly, most multivitamins include riboflavin, often known as vitamin B2, which causes your urine to turn a brilliant yellow color when it is passed.

Because the efficiency with which drug molecules pass the intestinal lining varies depending on the chemical features of the drug, some of the medications you take are never absorbed and end up in your feces.

Because not all of the drug is absorbed, some medications, such as those used to treat high blood pressure and allergies, must be taken multiple times in order to replace drug molecules that have been lost and maintain a high enough level of drug in the blood to maintain the drug's effects on the body.

Getting drugs to the right place

In comparison to pills and tablets, injecting a medicine straight into a vein is a more efficient technique of delivering it into the bloodstream. This ensures that the entire medicine is disseminated throughout the body and that it does not degrade in the stomach.

Many intravenous medications are "biologics" or "biotechnology drugs," meaning they contain chemicals obtained from other species.

Monoclonal antibodies, proteins that attach to and destroy tumor cells, are the most frequent form of cancer medication. Because your stomach can't recognize the difference between digesting a therapeutic protein and digesting the proteins in a cheeseburger, these medications are injected directly into a vein.

Drugs that require extremely high concentrations to be effective, such as antibiotics for serious infections, can only be supplied by infusion in some situations.

While raising medication concentration can assist ensure that enough molecules bind to the right locations to have a therapeutic impact, it also increases nontarget binding and raises the chance of adverse effects.

Applying the medicine directly where it's required, such as putting an ointment onto a skin rash or using eyedrops for allergies, is one technique to acquire a high drug concentration in the correct place. While some drug molecules will ultimately be absorbed into the bloodstream, the amount of medication that reaches other locations will be extremely little and unlikely to produce negative effects.

An inhaler, on the other hand, delivers the medicine directly to the lungs, avoiding side effects elsewhere in the body.

Patient compliance

Finally, getting patients to take drugs in the proper doses at the right times is a critical part of any drug development.

Because many people find it difficult to remember to take a medicine numerous times a day, researchers aim to create therapeutic formulations that only need to be taken once or twice a day.

Similarly, tablets, inhalers, and nasal sprays are more handy than an infusion, which needs you to visit to a clinic and have it injected into your arm by a skilled practitioner.

The easier and less costly it is to deliver a drug, the more likely people are to take their prescription when they need it.

However, infusions or injections are often the only efficient route to administer some medications.

Even with all of the research that goes into fully understanding an illness and developing a successful treatment, it is frequently up to the patient to ensure that everything works as it should.