Graduate Degrees Defined

AACP Resource

What is Pharmaceutical Science?

Pharmaceutical science, defined by the AACP Research and Graduate Affairs Committee, encompasses a broad range of interdisciplinary fields related to drug discovery, optimization, delivery, optimal dosing, as well as health outcomes and policy. Disciplines of pharmaceutical sciences may include, but are not limited to, medicinal chemistry, pharmaceutics, pharmacogenetics, pharmacology, biotechnology, pharmacoeconomics, pharmacoepidemiology, pharmacokinetics/clinical pharmacokinetics, clinical pharmacy/ pharmacotherapy, patient safety, regulatory science, health informatics, outcomes, and public health aspects of drug discovery and optimization.

Some common subdisciplines of pharmaceutical science are defined below.

Medicinal Chemistry

Medicinal chemistry is the application of chemical research techniques to the synthesis of pharmaceuticals. During the early stages of medicinal chemistry development, scientists were primarily concerned with the isolation of medicinal agents found in plants. Today, scientists in this field are also equally concerned with the creation of new synthetic drug compounds. Medicinal chemistry is almost always geared toward drug discovery and development.1


Pharmacology is the science of drug action on biological systems. It embraces knowledge of the sources, chemical properties, biological effects and therapeutic uses of drugs. Pharmacologists are also involved in molecular modeling of drugs and the use of drugs as tools to dissect aspects of cell function.2


Toxicology is the study of the adverse effects of chemical, physical, or biological agents on living organisms and the ecosystem, including the prevention and amelioration of such adverse effects. Toxicologists are scientists that often work in academic institutions, government, or industry.3


Pharmaceutics is a multidisciplinary science that examines the relationships between drug formulation, delivery, disposition and clinical response. Most graduates are employed in the pharmaceutical industry and academia.4

Social Administrative Sciences

The widespread use and dependency on drugs and drug products in today's society, coupled with an increased utilization and application of pharmaceutical services, has created a need for individuals who can study the social, psychosocial, political, legal, historic and economic factors that impinge upon the use, non-use and abuse of drugs. A number of critical factors shaping the health policies in the United States and around the world emphasize the need for increased research concerning the role of pharmaceuticals and the pharmacy practitioner in new and old systems of health care. Social administrative sciences foster the application of behavior-oriented interdisciplinary theories to pharmacy problem solving and pharmacy system development. Positions of responsibility and leadership are available in the pharmaceutical distribution systems of industrial and wholesaling practice, in clinically centered environments, in professional pharmacy organizations, in agencies of government, and in educational institutions.5

Clinical Pharmacy and Translational Sciences

The discipline of clinical and translational science encompasses a broad spectrum of research, extending from basic discoveries with implications for human health to community-based epidemiologic and health services studies – and back! The unifying theme is a commitment to apply scientific methodologies to address a health need. As such, clinical and translational research is a multi-dimensional, cross-cutting discipline that encompasses multidisciplinary investigative teams from many different subspecialty areas. Moreover, success in clinical and translational science commonly requires constructive partnerships with industry, granting agencies, public health agencies, and regulatory agencies. Thus, many thousands of individuals in the United States are engaged in, or support, clinical and translational research.6

Regulatory Affairs

Regulatory affairs is concerned with the development and enforcement of regulations to ensure the safety and efficacy of healthcare products.7

Regulatory Science

Regulatory science assesses the safety, efficacy, quality and performance of products.8


  1. American Chemical Society
  2. American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics
  3. Society of Toxicology
  4. University of Washington School of Pharmacy
  5. University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy
  6. Association for Clinical and Translational Science
  7. Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society
  8. U.S. Food and Drug Administration