Chemistry is much more important for every one of us than one might think. All of life is created and exists due to chemical processes. Every second, numerous biochemical reactions take place in our body. Whenever these reactions are disturbed and a person falls ill – these are also biochemical processes.
From the earliest days, mankind has attempted to cure disease or at least relieve pain. The origins of pharmacy lie in the collection of medicinal plants and the growing knowledge of their specific effects. For example, it was known in antiquity that an infusion of white willow bark (Salix alba) can soothe pain; the active component acetyl salicylic acid (aspirin) was later extracted. Medicinal plants still have a great significance in science and medicine: some 40 % of the synthetic substances currently in use have natural origins.
Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, known as Paracelsus (1493–1541), recognized that chemistry can help mankind and therefore challenged his fellow alchemists to “make medicine, not gold!” He saw illness as a disturbance in the body’s chemical balance – and drew the conclusion that it must therefore be restored by the application of chemical substances. This belief comes close to modern ideas; the consequence was that chemical and mineral substances were increasingly used alongside the familiar herbs, and the pool of medicines grew.
Pharmaceutics is now the science that deals with the nature, effects, testing, production and distribution of medicines. Building on the knowledge of chemistry and biology, modern science uses the growing understanding of the biochemistry of the human body to pursue a more deliberate search for substances that can bring cure or relief to patients. For example, these days medicaments are often ‘designed’ with the clear intent of optimizing their effect. Even so, only about a third of the roughly 30 000 known diseases can be treated. And in only a fraction of cases is one able to apply therapy to the actual cause of a disease rather than simply fight the symptoms.