Health & Fitness

How top breakthroughs in pharmaceutical research changed the world

There have been some amazing breakthroughs in pharmaceutical research over the last 200 years. From modern antibiotics to drugs to treat diabetes and vaccines that have eliminated severely debilitating diseases, we have a lot to be thankful for.

Listing all the top breakthroughs over even the last few decades would require a book-length document. Here are a few of the pharmaceutical breakthroughs that really stand out.

Discovery of penicillin

In 1928, the world changed with the discovery of penicillin. Before this time, there were far too many deaths due to infections. After the discovery of penicillin, infections that once led to the deaths of many children and adults were drastically reduced. This was the first antibiotic to be mass-produced and made widely available.

The discovery of penicillin was one of the luckiest accidents of all time. Professor Alexander Fleming was performing some cleanup at his laboratory when he noticed that a petri dish had a ring preventing the advance of bacteria. A year later, penicillin was isolated and well on its way to changing the world.


In 1982, insulin became available to those that have insulin Type 1 diabetes. This rare form of diabetes accounts for just 10% to 15% of diagnosed diabetes cases. It occurs when a person cannot make their own insulin, so they have continuously high blood-sugar levels. Insulin has saved a lot of lives and allowed diabetics to live longer and healthier lives.

Birth control pills

Birth control pills were FDA approved in 1960 and made it possible for people to plan their family size more carefully and avoid unwanted pregnancies. Hormonal birth control pills allowed women more control over their reproduction.

Birth control pills are also used to help women suffering from severe acne, polycystic ovaries, endometriosis and debilitating menstrual cramps. Over the years, many different pills have been developed to suit all women’s needs.

Smallpox vaccine

Smallpox was responsible for countless deaths and severe disfigurement. In 1796, a method of vaccination was discovered, making the smallpox vaccine the first vaccine created to protect against a highly contagious disease. The vaccine has come a long way. In 1796, the method of vaccination was to infect someone with milder cowpox. In the 20th century, a modern injectable vaccine was created. A massive worldwide vaccination program ran from 1958 to 1977. This resulted in smallpox being declared completely eradicated.

Polio vaccine

Many of us have seen the terrifying pictures of people disabled or forced to live in iron lungs due to polio. Thankfully, a very effective vaccine was created that has practically eliminated polio from the world. Although cases of polio do occur sometimes, they are extremely rare and often occur in less-developed countries where vaccine access is not adequate or required for school.

Even though polio has been eradicated, it is still a common vaccination to have and absolutely required for those in the public school system in the US.


While plenty of people are aware of ivermectin used in animals, fewer realize how many human conditions it is used to treat. Ivermectin was approved in 1987 for human use and works to kill a variety of parasites, including scabies, head lice, river blindness, tapeworms, roundworms and more. The drug can be applied externally or taken internally. It has most recently been used in many countries for treating COVID-19, although this is still considered a controversial treatment method.


Malaria is a disease that, once contracted, never entirely goes away without consistent treatment. The use of quinine prevents people from contracting malaria in the first place. It is also used to treat malaria after it is contracted. Quinine works by killing the parasite that causes malaria. This made it possible for people to live and thrive in areas where malaria outbreaks happened regularly.

Quinine is also used to treat some other disorders and is a popular ingredient in tonic water.

Hydroxychloroquine is a synthetic version of quinine, which has been used in some countries to treat and control COVID-19.


Before aspirin, the choices for pain relief were largely narcotic or alcohol based. Aspirin offered an affordable pain reliever and fever reducer. Aspirin was first made commercially by the Bayer Corporation in 1899. Before that, the precursor to aspirin, compounds found in the bark of Willow trees, were used for some of the same ailments.

Aspirin is not used quite as often for pain relief as it once was, thanks to the development of other over-the-counter painkillers, including acetaminophen and ibuprofen.

Aspirin continues to be one of the least expensive painkillers and fever reducers in the world.

Pharmaceuticals have saved countless lives

The development and distribution of pharmaceuticals have saved countless lives and continue to make it possible for people to have the best quality of life they can while living with a condition. A career in pharmaceuticals can open up a lot of opportunities. Earning a degree to work as a pharmacist can be done entirely online.

Doctor of Pharmacy

What can you do with a PharmD degree? Earning a Doctor of Pharmacy degree allows you to work alongside doctors, nurses and other medical professionals, recommending and managing medications. You may sometimes assess patient health and make recommendations.

Some PharmD graduates choose to pursue a career in the research and development of new medications to treat a variety of diseases and conditions. 

PharmD degree holders may find work as a head pharmacist at hospitals, assisted living centers or government agencies. Some work for regulatory departments such as the FDA, working to test and approve drugs for use by everyday people.


Pharmaceuticals continue to be a major lifesaver. Developing new drugs and treatments must continue as new diseases and conditions emerge.

One of the biggest challenges of the pharmaceutical industry in the future could be the development of new antibiotics since some bacteria have evolved to be resistant to the most commonly used ones.

The fight to discover cures for chronic conditions is a noble one. Choosing a pharmaceutical career makes sense for those who want to have a lasting impact and help others lead better lives.

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