Research on what the body does to drugs, rather than on what drugs do to the body, is to be developed at Manchester University as a result of a newly-launched centre.
The research should strengthen an Achilles heel of British drug research, according to Malcolm Rowland, professor at the university's department of pharmacy.
A drug has a hard time in the body as its defences prevent the chemical from being absorbed through the gut into the blood stream; or break the drug down and eliminate it before it has had time to have an effect.
Professor Rowland said: "It's a very complicated interplay between the drug and all the parts of the body. It's an essential part of the drug development process. But teaching of the subject - pharmacokinetics - virtually doesn't exist outside schools of pharmacy. So the concern companies have is that unless you can sustain a high quality academic base there will be a shortage of trained people. If you look at the bases in this subject in the US and Japan we have, relatively, a very small base."
The Centre for Applied Pharmacokinetic Research has been launched using money from drug companies Zeneca and Glaxo Wellcome, which have committed Pounds 250,000 each over five years. It will eventually involve other industrial partners.
One approach from centre scientists has been to exploit a new development that allows them to isolate an enzyme important in the human body and put it into another living system, such as a yeast. Then they can play about with it, studying how it interacts with other chemicals.
The centre will also use the latest computer modelling techniques to predict the behaviour of possible new drugs.
"Our ability to predict whether a drug will stay around is very poor," said Professor Rowland. If this knowledge was improved it could mean patients would need to take their drugs less frequently, for example once a day instead of three times a day, which would improve their sticking power.