Pharmaceutical Innovation after World War II: from rational drug discovery to biopharmaceuticals


“The twentieth century has witnessed an unprecedented advancement of biomedical sciences, especially in drug discovery and design. After World War II, life-saving pharmaceutical innovation has materialised primarily through systematic research, and has consisted of a series of thematic developments that have been tightly-linked not only to the contemporary technological advances, but also particularly to the contemporary understanding of human physiology and pathophysiology.”

By organising the Frontiers Research Topic “Pharmaceutical innovation after World War II: from rational drug discovery to biopharmaceuticals” in Frontiers in Pharmacology, Professor Tilli Tansey OBE and Dr Apostolos Zarros aim to explore, delineate, and conceptualise pharmaceutical innovation in the post-World War II era with contributions covering a broad spectrum of paradigm shifting factors and achievements that have shaped the pharmaceutical landscape.

We asked them to share with us the inspiration behind the project.

What inspired you to organize a Research Topic on pharmaceutical innovation after World War II?

We are members of the History of Modern Biomedicine Research Group, which is funded by the Wellcome Trust and committed to open-access publishing. We study the history of recent biomedicine, principally by employing oral history methodology, and generate a variety of resources by collecting, transcribing, editing and undertaking research on oral testimonies from groups and individuals who have made significant contributions to the legacy of modern biomedicine. Pharmaceutical innovation is a topic we wanted to explore further, particularly from the Second World War onwards, which is the era when rational drug discovery was established. The breadth of the topic, the wide range of possible contributors, and the need for a more organized presentation of the main concepts involved in this dynamic field, made us realize that a Research Topic with Frontiers in Pharmacology would be an ideal platform for us to reach the most pertinent contributors and audiences.

Which contributions are you hoping to attract to your Research Topic?

Our goal is to attract both review and original articles on historical perspectives of drug discovery, design, development, manufacture and usage. We are hoping to attract contributions that will shed light on the paradigm shifting ways in which pharmaceutical methodology and thinking have developed after World War II in academe and in industry. Such contributions might, for example, focus on the development and acceptance of innovative ideas, the impact of contemporary discoveries, theoretical advances or technological developments, or even the influence of individual scientists and specific pioneering labs or particular drugs; others might focus on the varied and variable roles of industry, funding bodies, regulators and markets.

What do you hope to achieve through this initiative and why is this important today?

We hope to develop a systematic study of pharmaceutical innovation and the many varied factors that have shaped its development over recent years, and to define the key scientific and socioeconomic conditions that promote or hinder pharmaceutical innovation at any given period, as well as to explore their contemporary significance. We also aim to bring together scientists and others from different backgrounds to produce a useful academic resource (such as this eBook / Research Topic), and to contribute to a community that could further develop this concept through multidisciplinary collaboration and creative initiatives.

In brief, could you provide some background on the topic editors?

Professor Tilli Tansey is Professor of the History of Modern Medical Sciences and Director of the History of Modern Biomedicine Research Group, at the School of History, Queen Mary University of London. She is a former neuroscientist who has co-written a history of the drug firm Burroughs, Wellcome & Co., and co-edited several volumes on drug discovery.

Dr Apostolos Zarros is Research Assistant to Professor Tilli Tansey at the History of Modern Biomedicine Research Group, at the School of History, Queen Mary University of London. He is a physician with postgraduate studies in neuroscience and neuropathology, with an interest in the study of the coincidental factors that shape pharmaceutical innovation.

Read the Frontiers Research Topic here: Pharmaceutical innovation after World War II: from rational drug discovery to biopharmaceuticals

For more information about participating in this initiative, you are welcome to contact us at

By Katie Powis, PhD – Journal Development Specialist

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: