Synthetic organic chemists (also known as medicinal chemists) make chemical compounds for biological testing.
The chemist uses their knowledge of chemistry, biochemistry and physiology to design a molecule that is likely to work as a treatment for a particular disease.
Compounds closely related to those which have been identified as having useful activity are made on a small scale - usually only 1-200mg at a time - for testing in biological screens. The results of the tests are used to make further changes to the molecule to improve the activity it has against the disease. This process is known as lead optimisation.
Once activity has been optimised the compound will be made on a larger scale for further tests. The medicinal chemist develops a route to make the compound which uses well known reactions that can be relied on to make the molecule in the small quantities needed; once larger quantities of pure compound are required a new synthetic route may have to be developed.
I am in my fourth year of a five-year Masters degree in Chemistry and Drug Discovery at Strathclyde University. I am 10 months into an industrial placement year in a pharmaceutical company.