There are always new medications being developed in the pharmaceutical industry, and these medications are presented in physician focus groups and clinical trials all over the world. Itbecomes important for the pharmaceutical company to have these focus groups and patientinterviews transcribed and translated into the company’s native language, so that this newknowledge can be integrated into the final product.

What does this mean to the translator or transcriptionist? There are many medical interpreting programs out there, including state universities, extension courses and online schools. Thereare also medical translators who have not attended one of these courses, but have a medicalbackground from some other source. Translators commonly wear many hats; even without a medical background, there are ways to become proficient in pharmaceutical translation.

Patient interviews and focus groups often follow a certain structure:

  • Identifying the patient, the physicians and the condition to be treated.
  • Methods or medications have been used in the past, and the advantages or disadvantages of earlier treatments.
  • Side effects and risks.
  • Introducing the new product, discussions on dosages, competitors’ products, market placement, levels of the studies, potential side effects, etc.

The first “tip” is to recognize this structure and become familiar with the name of the condition and the medications being discussed. Some physicians will call the medication by its chemical or generic name and some will call it by its brand name.

One of the problems that come up is mistranslation of drug names. For instance, there aremany, many drug names ending in “lol,” “mine,” “pine” and “il.” These similarities can beconfusing, and misspelling a name could mean translating an entirely different drug. Thisleads us to the notion of collaborating with the client. Try to find out if the client has aglossary; they probably do if they conduct a lot of clinical trials. If not, see if they are open tocommunication during the project.

When it comes to anatomical terms and other common medical language, the similarities can be to the translator’s advantage. Here’s one example; the word kidney. Nephrology, the studyof kidneys, is from Greek nephros. “Renal” is from the Latin rēnēs. Medical language isbased on Latin and Greek, so some knowledge of the morphology of these two languages isimportant, as are terminology guides. One such guide is found at:

Lastly is the idea of collaboration with your agency. If the agency uses translation memory,many terms can be called up from previous projects, and the memory will “populate” as thecurrent project goes on. Even without translation memory, your agency may have access to glossaries from current or previous clients. As in any translation field, there are several steps and people involved in a pharmaceutical translation. Collaboration and building a knowledge base are key to accurate pharmaceutical translations; an important and lucrative area for translators.