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Free online course

Good Brain, Bad Brain: Drug Origins

Explore our past, present and future understanding of drugs with this online course. Where do drugs come from? How do they work?


  • Access to the course for its duration + 14 days, starting from when you join
  • No access to course tests
  • No certificate


  • Unlimited access to the course for as long as it exists on FutureLearn
  • Access to course tests
  • A Certificate of Achievement when you complete the course

Find out more

Good Brain, Bad Brain: Drug Origins

This course is part of the Good Brain, Bad Brain program, which will enable you to explore the human brain, for CPD or as a gateway to further study.

Why join the course?

This course is designed for anyone who has ever wondered how the drugs in their medicine cabinet were found in the first place and how they ended up as pills in a bottle.

Where do drugs come from?

We’ll start by reflecting on the nature of medicines and look at the history of some everyday drugs that have been taken by humans for centuries.

This will show us that many commonly used drugs were found somewhat accidentally - and often without any understanding of the science behind how they worked.

Over time, this apparently random process has been refined and improved, so we’ll go on to consider recent advances in identifying potential drugs.

How do drugs go from laboratory to medicine?

Finding a molecule that has the potential to act as a drug is not the end of the process. The critical questions then are:

  • how do we get the drug into the body?
  • how much needs to be taken?
  • and will it be safe enough as well as effective?

What’s your experience?

The course will take an interactive approach, allowing you to both share your own experiences of medicines, and learn from experts in pharmacology and neuroscience. All jargon will be explained, so that you can join in without any specialist knowledge.

You can read more about the course in Alison Cooper’s blog post: “Have you ever wondered how drugs end up in a bottle in your medicine cabinet?

Learn more with the Good Brain, Bad Brain program

This course is the third of three in the Good Brain, Bad Brain program from the University of Birmingham. You can begin by looking at the basics of the human brain and Parkinson’s disease.

When you complete all three courses and buy a Certificate of Achievement for each, you will earn a FutureLearn Award as proof of completing the program of study.

When would you like to start?

  • Date to be announced

What will you achieve?

  • Identify a definition for the term drug
  • Discuss how the purpose of drugs can be for symptom relief, to cure a disease or to prevent a disease
  • Compare estimates for the length of time it takes to produce a drug and the cost of the process
  • Identify the different mechanisms by which drugs have been discovered and how these have changed over time
  • Explain how an understanding of the molecular structure of a drug target molecule can lead to the development of new drugs
  • Describe the journey that a drug has to take through the body to its target and the factors that influence how much drug arrives at the target
  • Compare the different routes by which drugs can be administered
  • Explain how drug formulation impacts on how the drug works in the body
  • Discuss the purpose of the various phases of clinical trials of drug development

Who is the course for?

This course is aimed at anyone with an interest in finding out where the drugs that keep us healthy come from. To take the course, the only experience you need is to have taken a drug - even just a throat lozenge.

Who will you learn with?

Alison Cooper

Alison Cooper is a senior lecturer at the University of Birmingham, where she teaches neuroscience and pharmacology.

Who developed the course?

The University of Birmingham is a public research university, consistently listed as a leading UK university and ranked among the top 100 in the world.

Buy a personalised, digital and printed certificate and transcript

You can buy a Certificate of Achievement for this course — a personalised certificate and transcript in both digital and printed formats, to prove what you’ve learnt. A Statement of Participation is also available for this course.

Certificate of Achievement + transcript £59.00

Statement of Participation £34.00

Estimate prices in preferred currency

Charges to your account will be made in GBP. Prices in local currency are provided as a convenience and are only an estimate based on current exchange rates.