My medicine: From laboratory to pharmacy shelf

This section aims to help you find out more about the life cycle of medicines, from their first scientific discovery through to licensing and ongoing monitoring.

The pages set out to explain:

  • how and why medicines are developed
  • how the process is regulated and monitored
  • how potential problems can be reported and what you can do to help
  • why not all medicines are widely available in the NHS.

Each one covers a different stage in the life cycle of a medicine, with links to other relevant articles in the series and useful websites where you can obtain further information.

You may also find this glossary of terms helpful: Glossary of MHRA terms


From laboratory to pharmacy shelf

Pharmacist standing by a shelf
The page provides details on who regulates medicines, what acceptably safe means, the life cycle of a medicine and who decides which medicines can be prescribed.
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Pre-clinical research

Scientist examing a substance
This page provides information on what the research can tell us, why this type of research is important and why animals are still used.
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Licensing (marketing authorisation)

People in a meeting
This page provides information on why licensing is important, weighing up the pros and cons of a medicine and ‘Off label’ or ‘unlicensed prescribing’. It also describes the role of the European regulator.
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Changes in the use of a medicine

Family at the doctors
This page provides information on what changes can be made to a medicine, switching the legal status of a medicine, withdrawing a medicine and how will this affect you.
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Drug discovery

Drug compound
This page provides information on ideas for drug development, the search for a new compound and weeding out unsuitable compounds.

Clinical trials

Patient having her blood pressure taken
This page provides information on why trials are needed and what’s involved, who takes part, trial phases, the different types of trial and quality safeguards.

Monitoring medicines after licensing

Patient and doctor discussing a Yellow Card report
This page provides information on who is involved in monitoring medicines, what action is taken, how is the alarm raised and what to do about side effects associated with a medicine.

The availability of medicines

Doctor talking to a child
This page provides information on which agencies are responsible for medicines in the UK, which treatments are reviewed, putting the recommendations into practice and how the NHS responds.
Page last modified: 09 April 2010