The Influence of Translation on the History of Pharmaceuticals

While the pharmaceutical industry can trace its history all the way back to the earliest pharmacies and apothecaries, these could only offer a “hit and miss” range of remedies based on popular folklore and cultural knowledge. The history of pharmaceuticals, as we know it today, actually began in late 17th century Germany.

History of Pharmaceuticals

From the outset, the translation industry has been a key factor in enabling the globalization of pharmaceutical products and brands alike. Some of the most notable milestones in the advancement of the pharmaceutical industry include Bayer’s commercialisation of Aspirin at the turn of the 20th century, followed most significantly by the displacement of Germany as the leading force in pharmaceuticals after World War One. This provided other countries (in particular, the USA) with the chance to take advantage, leading to the first tentative steps toward the globalization of pharmaceutical companies. Wyeth, CIBA, and Sandoz were just a few of those to begin operations in the UK to avoid post-war import duties.


First Steps towards Globalization

These first international companies paved the way for pharmaceutical advancement, making an accurate translation for the global economy an absolute necessity. As sales boomed and investment in pharmaceutical research increased, a growing number of compounds were discovered. Each needed the relevant materials to be accurately translated for medical communities and established markets around the world. The precision of these translations and the major workload required to ensure each product could be utilized across continents and in numerous multilingual locales, gave rise to the highly specialized area of pharmaceutical translations as we know it today.

All of this had to be achieved without recourse to the modern systems that streamline translation today. Without translation memories, easily accessible translators or collaborative translation, each product required transcreation by a native speaker with accuracy double checked so as to ensure the instructions or dosage guide was perfectly comprehensible to each target audience. As demand grew worldwide, this was a pivotal era in which pharmaceutical translations became a necessity for market success.

Research and Development

As the pharmaceutical industry expanded so too did profits and investment in Research and Development (R&D) studying new medicines and drugs. Between the 1940s and early 1970s, the industry saw its heyday with the advent of new medicines such as paracetamol (1953), the contraceptive pill (1960), Valium (1963) and Ibuprofen (1969). This period of rapid growth raised the barrier for entry in pharmaceutical production.

Improving Regulations

The pharmaceutical industry has changed considerably in the 21st century, with more restrictive regulations coming into force in the 1960s following the thalidomide disaster that caused deformities in thousands of babies born between 1956 and 1962. The UK set up the Committee on the Safety
of Drugs (CSD) in 1963, as well as the Yellow Card Scheme in 1964. Similarly, the US passed its own Drug Amendments Act of 1962 requiring FDA approval for all new drug
applications. These regulations reshaped pharmaceutical production for the better, whilst also putting greater demands and increased pressure on pharmaceutical translators to achieve guaranteed accuracy.

Today, massive corporations spend less on R&D and more on the acquisition of smaller companies that still research and develop with much the same pioneering verve as was evident at the start of the industry boom. Irrespective of the structure of the production line, at every step of the way, pharmaceutical companies are required to produce packaging, instructions and dosage guides for the global market, in line with strict regulatory guidelines.

It was only with the aid of effective and standardized translations for their brands that these pioneering companies managed to globalize and wholesale modern pharmaceutical products. As at the present, pharmaceutical translation experts help to ensure both the accessibility and safe application of drugs made available on the global market.


The Importance of Expert Translations

Fortunately, we now have means such as translation memories and databases to offer more streamlined, standardized translations of the materials for drugs and medicines. It remains of paramount importance, however, for each target translation to be checked, back-translated and checked again. This is an area of translation where simplification or machine translation isn’t an option. Pharmaceutical translation needs to ensure that the target translation is easy to read for both patients and medical professionals in each language whilst retaining all of the key information. As we all know, this could mean the difference between life and death.


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