The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) have launched a new website to provide authoritative information on medicines to the public.

The site, at www.mhra.gov.uk/mymedicine, provides a guide to the lifecycle of new medicines, from first discovery through to licensing and on-going monitoring. It shows how scientists pinpoint diseases and set about finding compounds which can combat specific illnesses, and describes the clinical trials and licensing processes through to post-approval monitoring for safety.

Karen Miller, a director at the ABPI, points out that more and more people are going on-line to find out about health-related issues, and that while the Internet is "a superb resource," it contains a lot of disinformation. “With the MHRA, we wanted to create a website which provides an authoritative and reliable source of information which explains the time and effort invested into medicines before they arrive in the medicine cabinet,” she said.

“Medicines can bring big benefits, but as with any medical treatment, no medicine is risk-free. By making as much information as possible publicly available, we can help people make informed choices about the medicines they take,” added the MHRA’s chief executive, Professor Kent Woods. “We want to make sure people understand the relationship between the risks and the benefits and we encourage people to tell us about any problems they have with a medicine, so that we can investigate and help make medicines safer,” he noted.

Anne Joshua, associate director of pharmacy at the National Health Service (NHS) on-line and telephone advice service NHS Direct, welcomed the new resource. NHS Direct regularly receives calls from people about new treatments and their availability on the NHS, she said. Typically, they may have heard about the treatment in the media and want to know about the benefits and risks for treating their particular condition or, as a carer, if it is available for an elderly relative with more than one long-term condition.

“If the medicine is still undergoing investigation they may want to know how they can join a clinical trial or if a clinical specialist can prescribe it for them anyway,” said Ms Joshua, adding: “this new web resource will provide the necessary reassurance to patients and their families about how new medicines are rigorously tested before they are available to the public and what measures are taken to ensure the safety of newly licensed medicines as they are used across the range of conditions that they treat.”

- A link to www.mhra.gov.uk/mymedicine will also be available via the NHS Direct website located at www.nhsdirect.nhs.uk/Zones/Zone.aspx?zoneId=42