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Science: molecules, medicines and drugs

Explore the discovery and development of a range of drugs and medicines that relieve pain, alleviate symptoms, minimise the risk of infection and effect cures. Science: molecules, medicines and drugs is one of a series of 100-hour flexible online courses introducing fascinating topics in science. It allows you to learn about this topic just for interest and enables you to try out a new area of study before you commit yourself to further study. You can register and begin this course at any time and will have at least 6 months to complete it.

This is a non-credit bearing version of Molecules, medicines and drugs: a chemical story (SK185)

Standalone study only

You will not be awarded credits for studying this course. It is available for standalone study only and cannot be counted towards an OU qualification.

Short course

Short course code
SKG085
Credits
This is a non-credit bearing course.
Study method
Distance Learning
Short course cost
See Registration
Entry requirements
See Am I ready?

What you will study

From Hippocrates to modern times, society has sought ways of relieving pain and curing or preventing disease. From ancient wisdom to herbal remedies, there have been important discoveries resulting in the development of medicines that are commonplace today. Modern research at the molecular level constantly adds to the range of drugs available to combat ill-health.

After a brief introduction (which discusses the development and testing of drugs within a social and economic setting), you’ll move on to explore the discovery and development of a range of drugs and medicines. You’ll find out how drugs interact with and affect their target areas in the human body and do activities to help you to visualise the three-dimensional structures and shapes of the molecules concerned and to develop an understanding of how the drugs work. The story includes topics on how aspirin relieves aches and pains, Ventolin treats the symptoms of asthma, penicillin combats harmful bacteria and Tamiflu helps in the fight against bird flu.

The course makes use of some basic ideas from chemistry and develops some of the skills associated with studying our world at the molecular level. Chemical ideas are explained when they are needed. However, if you are entirely new to the language of chemistry, you will need patience while you become familiar with the vocabulary, and practice applying the new skills that you are learning. The reward will be an understanding of some of the science behind the discovery, development and mode of action of a range of medicines and drugs.

This course has been partly funded by the Wolfson Foundation in collaboration with The Royal Society of Chemistry.

By the end of this course you should be able to:

Demonstrate general knowledge and understanding of some of the basic facts, concepts, principles and language relating to the development of medicines. In particular, you should be able to demonstrate a knowledge and understanding of:

  • the science behind the development of some drugs to achieve particular tasks
  • how chemical bonding determines the properties of compounds and provides an explanation for the mode of action of drugs.
  • the socio-economic perspective behind the development of some drugs and some possible future developments in medicinal chemistry.

This course will require around 80–100 hours of your time in total, which can be spread over at least 6 months. Register online today and start tomorrow – no need to wait!

The course features the distinctive strengths of The Open University (OU) from its years of expertise in distance learning:

  • The convenience of accessing its clearly presented and sequenced materials, activities and support whenever suits you and wherever you have access to the protected course website – if you prefer, you can print key materials to work on them offline.
  • The support of an expert learning adviser who can clarify study materials, answer questions and help you relate the course to your specific needs.
  • An online interactive quiz that you can attempt as many times as you wish to help you test your own learning.
  • A statement of participation from the OU which you can use to demonstrate your engagement with the course. (N.B. The course does not carry academic credit points.)

Some of the pages within the course contain links to external sites. Accessing these sites is part of the allocated study time for the course. You may also wish to undertake additional background study or reading if some of the concepts introduced are completely unfamiliar to you. 

Learner support

Expert, confidential learner support is available when you need it from a learning adviser, who will respond to you directly. Other support is available via the course forum, library, dedicated website and computing helpdesk.

Teaching and assessment

Assessment

There is no formal assessment on the course but you will be able to assess yourself on your factual knowledge through an online quiz that gives detailed feedback to help your learning.

Regulations

As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the academic regulations which are available on our Essential Documents website.


    Entry requirements

    The course does not assume any previous scientific background and teaches the ideas and skills needed as and when they are required. This includes an understanding of how the structures of molecules underpin their properties and hence the uses to which they can be put. You will probably find you can move faster through the course if you have studied some chemistry and/or biology before, but the essential things are an interest in the subject and the motivation to understand some of the science behind it.

    You should be able to read and understand written English of a style and complexity characteristic of a professional magazine or quality newspaper, and you should be able to communicate your thoughts clearly and comprehensibly in a written format. Mathematically, you need only to be able to add, subtract, multiply and divide simple numbers. A maths skills ebook is provided to help you with, for example, fractions, percentages, reading graphs and tables, and scientific units as required by the course.

    You can study at your own pace and attempt the online quiz at any time before the end date for the course. Information about the end date is available when you register and will be at least six months after registration.

    If you want to see if this material is suitable for you, try a sample of the study material.

    Register

    Start End England fee Register
    At anytime Flexible - see Entry requirements for more detail £165.00 Register

    Ways to pay

    Credit/Debit Card – We accept American Express, Mastercard, Visa/Delta or Visa Electron.

    Sponsorship – If this course is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could ask your employer to sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. Your sponsor just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.

    What's included

    All learning materials, activities and study support are delivered entirely online.

    Computing requirements

    A computing device with a browser and broadband internet access is required for this module.  Any modern browser will be suitable for most computer activities. Functionality may be limited on mobile devices.

    Any additional software will be provided, or is generally freely available. However, some activities may have more specific requirements. For this reason, you will need to be able to install and run additional software on a device that meets the requirements below.

    A desktop or laptop computer with either:

    • Windows 7 or higher
    • macOS 10.7 or higher

    The screen of the device must have a resolution of at least 1024 pixels horizontally and 768 pixels vertically.

    To participate in our online-discussion area you will need both a microphone and speakers/headphones. 

    Our Skills for OU study website has further information including computing skills for study, computer security, acquiring a computer and Microsoft software offers for students. 

    If you have a disability

    The course is delivered online and makes use of a variety of online resources. If you use specialist hardware or software to assist you in using a computer or the internet you are advised to contact us about support which can be given to meet your needs. If you are a new learner with the OU, make sure that you look at our website.