Drug discovery: past, present and future

Prog Drug Res. 1998:50:9-105. doi: 10.1007/978-3-0348-8833-2_1.


New drug discovery from early on involved a trial-and-error approach on naturally derived materials and substances until the end of the nineteenth century. The first half of the twentieth century witnessed systematic pharmacological evaluations of both natural and synthetic compounds. However, most new drugs until the 1970s were discovered by serendipity. With the exponential development of molecular biology on one hand and computer technology on the other, it became possible from 1980 onwards to place drug discovery on a rational basis. Cloning of genes has led to the development of methodologies for specific receptor-directed and enzyme-directed drug discoveries. Advances in recombinant DNA and transgenic technologies have enabled the production of human hormonal and other endogenous biomolecules as new drugs. As we understand more about the co-ordinating and regulating powers of the cerebral cortex during the next century, especially of the frontal lobe, man may be able to use bio-feedback training to voluntarily regulate the release of neurotransmitters, hormones, and other molecules involved in the regulation of various physiological processes in health as well as in disease.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Drug Design*
  • Genetic Therapy
  • Humans
  • Models, Molecular
  • Structure-Activity Relationship