Essential Medicinal Chemistry of Essential Medicines

J Med Chem. 2020 Sep 24;63(18):10170-10187. doi: 10.1021/acs.jmedchem.0c00415. Epub 2020 May 12.


Since 1977, the World Health Organization publishes a list of essential medicines, i.e., those that satisfy the priority health care needs of the population and are selected with regard to disease prevalence and public health relevance, evidence of clinical efficacy, and safety, as well as comparative costs and cost-effectiveness. The Essential Medicines List (EML) is an invaluable tool for all countries to select those medicines that have an excellent risk/benefit ratio and that are reputed to be of pivotal importance to health. In the present perspective, we describe the chemical composition and the main features of the small molecules that are included in the EML, spanning from their origin, to their stereochemistry and measure of drug-likeness. Most and foremost, we wish to disseminate the importance of the EML, which can be both a helpful teaching tool in an ever-expanding world of medicines and an inspiration for those involved in pharmaceutical R&D.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Chemistry, Pharmaceutical*
  • Drugs, Essential / administration & dosage
  • Drugs, Essential / chemistry*
  • Formularies as Topic
  • Humans
  • Injections
  • Molecular Structure
  • Stereoisomerism
  • World Health Organization


  • Drugs, Essential