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Drug discovery is a long and challenging process, which may take up to fifteen years of experimentation and clinical trials, and several billion dollars in various expenses to bring a successful drug to patients. The process can be roughly divided into three stages: 1) biology research and early drug discovery; 2) preclinical drug development; and 3) clinical trials.
In order to start a drug discovery program, at the first stage, scientists study biological processes to come up with proper understanding of the underlying causes of a particular disease. Once drivers of the disease are known, scientists can select specific biological targets -- typically proteins involved in a disease-causing biological process.