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Any product that is claimed to cure or prevent a disease is a therapeutic drug. Before it can be sold in France, it must obtain a French or European marketing authorisation, following tests that prove its quality, harmlessness and efficacy. A therapeutic drug can only be sold in a pharmacy, and those that are classed as dangerous are only supplied on prescription.
A substance selected as a potential therapeutic drug is first tested in vitro on cells, then in vivo on animals. If the substance displays promising properties, clinical trials then begin on humans: phase 1 on healthy volunteers, phase 2 on a small number of patients and phase 3 on a greater number. It generally takes about ten years from the discovery of a therapeutic substance to the issue of a marketing authorisation by the French Agency for Health-Product Safety. After marketing, the pharmaceutical company continues to monitor its product, especially to identify any side-effects: this is called drug monitoring. Homeopathic medicines do not need a marketing authorisation and so do not have to go through testing.