Modern medicine in the UK began with the establishment of a National Health Service in 1948, as it enabled every single person in the UK to access free health care and rapidly boosted the use of medicines in the country, increasing both quality of life and the average lifespan of people.

The innovations of global pharmaceuticals became accessible to more people than ever and in the seven decades since, many drugs have been innovated, created and manufactured, helping to save some lives and transform others for the better.

Here are just a few of the most important medicines that have been developed in the history of modern medicine.


Mental health has seen rapid change in both its perception and the treatment philosophy for patients with mental health conditions has transformed on a fundamental level.

One of the medical innovations that can be thanked for this is the development of Chlorpromazine, one of the first antipsychotic medications that transformed how people perceived mental health.

Before the development of antipsychotics, mental health patients were subject to electroconvulsive therapy, unnecessary surgery and deliberate induction in insulin comas due to a lack of knowledge of mental health at the time.

To this day it remains an effective drug used as a benchmark against other antipsychotics to this day.

Polio Vaccine

Polio was a terrifying virus before the advent of vaccination, as few knew how it spread and it could have very dangerous side effects.

However, the development of a vaccine, first oral and later injected, would reduce the number of cases worldwide from 350,000 in 1988 to around 33 in 2018.

The Asthma Inhaler

Before the development of the inhaler and the discovery of beta-2 agonists, stopping asthma attacks involved the use of unreliable fragile devices such as nebulisers.

The inhaler would send an aerosol of muscle relaxing beta-2 agonists, which widen the airway and stop asthma attacks quickly.

Combine Oral Contraceptive Pill

Otherwise simply known as “the pill” the oral contraceptive was one of the first pharmaceuticals that was taken on a daily basis by healthy people, and has had a major impact even beyond healthcare.

It reduced the number of teenage births, as well as reducing the numbers of stillbirths and premature deliveries.


Immunosuppressant medication is used primarily to stop the rejection of organs after transplant.

After the development of cyclosporin in 1983, immunosuppressants helped not only to stop hospitalisations caused by rejected organs but also to enable liver, heart and lung transplants for the first time.


One of the first-ever medicines that helped to prevent breast cancer and stop it from coming back after a tumour was removed.

Not only was it a major development, but also led to the introduction of a breast cancer screening programme, which ensured that people were diagnosed as early as possible and could be treated without major complications.


Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) was at one point considered a death sentence that would inevitably lead to Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) and lead to death.

However, the development of antiretroviral medication such as Zidovudine has been claimed by NHS professionals as a drug that helped prevent a potential AIDS pandemic in the UK.

It stopped the spread of HIV as well as reduce the chance that it would develop into AIDS significantly and as part of the combined antiretroviral therapy (cART) reduced mortality rates from AIDS by half.