Therapeutic agents are compounds with a beneficial and desirable effect when consumed or applied. These include a range of products, from topical aloe vera to soothe skin irritation to chemotherapy medications used to attack cancers. For safety reasons, many nations regulate them and set standards for purity and labeling. These laws protect consumers and provide guidelines for manufacturers to use in the development and marketing of their products.
Some therapeutic agents are biological in origin, and can include components of plants and minerals as well as animal products. Others are synthetic, produced in a lab environment. Natural agents like herbal medicines may be subject to less regulation and could be treated as dietary supplements rather than medical preparations. Others are more heavily regulated because of the increased risks associated with their use. Medications used in cancer treatment, for example, can be dangerous for patients or people around them.
Studies on therapeutic agents provide information about how they work and what kinds of risks may develop over the course of their application. This research can include lab analysis of compounds to find out what is inside them and how they may act on individual cells during treatment. Some therapeutic agents are customized for individual patients, providing highly targeted treatment for a condition. Such treatments can come with fewer side effects and higher efficacy.
To market therapeutic agents, companies must be able to show that they have a desirable and controllable effect on study populations, which indicates that they could be medically useful. This outcome should also provide benefits, such as the elimination of infectious bacteria in the case of antibiotic medications. Studies can determine what kinds of side effects may arise in the use of therapeutic agents, which can help regulators decide if they should be sold and what kind of labeling they should bear. A medication may have a benefit that outweighs potentially serious side effects, in which case it can be released as long as sufficient warning is provided to buyers.
Humans have been using therapeutic agents for thousands of years, including some compounds which have continued in use through to the present day. Preparations made with poppies to address pain, for example, were the precursors of powerful synthetic opiates used for the same purpose by modern physicians. New compounds are in constant development, including biological and synthetic preparations to treat new diseases and improve quality of care for existing medical conditions.