When I am running GMP training courses I often ask the delegates at the start of the course what a medicine actually is.  This always prompts some interesting discussion and gets people thinking – which is never a bad thing on a training course.  Typical answers include “something to cure a disease” and sometimes “something to prevent a disease” and often “something to make you feel better”.  These are all good definitions – I especially like the one “something to make you feel better”.  Whilst this is true there are also lots of non-medicinal things that can make you feel better – a glass of wine, watching your team win at sport, seeing your family and so on, none of which can be classed as medicines.

The place I turn to to get a definition of a medicine is the EU GMP Glossary, where there is a definition of a Medicinal Product.  The definition is in two parts:

Any substance or combination of substances presented for treating or preventing disease in human beings or animals.  Any substance or combination of substances which may be administered to human beings or animals with a view to making a medical diagnosis or to restoring, correcting or modifying physiological functions in human beings or in animals is likewise considered a medicinal product.

From the above definition you will see that medicines apply to both humans and animals, and animal medicinal products are subject to more-or-less the same GMP rules and regulations as human medicines.

Let’s look at the definition part by part.  The first part to start with:

Any substance or combination of substances presented for treating or preventing disease in human beings or animals.

This covers classic assumptions and ideas about medicines.  Vaccines are included here (to prevent) as are antibiotics (to treat).

The second part covers a much broader scope of the use of medicines, and includes a number of uses of medicines that may not be immediately obvious.

Any substance or combination of substances which may be administered to human beings or animals with a view to making a medical diagnosis or to restoring, correcting or modifying physiological functions in human beings or in animals is likewise considered a medicinal product. 

From this we can see two further uses of medicines:

Making a medical diagnosis

This includes products taken to help conditions show up during x-rays and products taken to force the body into a reaction as part of trying to identify a possible medicinal condition (such as allergies).

Restoring, correcting or modifying physiological functions

This includes the contraceptive pill, pain relief and use of hormone products.

So you can see that a medicine is quite a complicated thing, with a number of definitions that go beyond “making you feel better”.   Whilst making you feel better is probably the goal of all medicines you will note that these four words do not appear in the definition itself!

I hope that this is of interest.  Feel free to add comments below.  For further details of the courses we offer, please visit our website