Never heard of pharmacoeconomics? Neither had most of the Next Wave staff. But that was before GlaxoWellcome's flu drug Relenza hit the headlines last October. A recently established UK government advisory body, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE), issued guidance that Relenza should not be prescribed through the National Health Service because it had yet to prove its cost-effectiveness among high-risk groups. In response, GlaxoWellcome warned that if it became too difficult to get drugs prescribed in the UK it might take its R&D effort to other countries, draining precious resources out of the UK economy. So whose job is it to decide whether a drug is cost-effective? Pharmacoeconomists.

So what's going on behind the scenes? Why has health economics--a field that brings together the expertise of both economists and people with scientific and clinical backgrounds--become so important now? To find out about the history of pharmacoeconomics, and why it's a growing field, turn to Phil Jacobs's overview. Phil is a Research Fellow at the Institute of Health Economics in Edmonton, Canada.

Konrad Obermann trained in both medicine and economics and is responsible for health technology assessment (HTA) at Germany's Institute for Health and Social Research. He explains how HTA fits into the health economics picture and why he finds it fascinating.

So, perhaps you have a head for figures and models, an interest in pharmaceuticals, epidemiology, and clinical trials. There is, it seems, no standard route into a career in health economics. An MSc in health economics can certainly help, and such courses and fellowships in pharmacoeconomics are often sponsored by pharmaceutical companies. Next Wave's Managing Editor Crispin Taylor talked to a couple of leading pharmacoeconomists to get their advice on starting a career in the field.

And if you'd like to find out more about the financial side of pharmaceuticals, check out our Pharmacoeconomics Resources.