Think a trip to the pharmacy is overwhelming? Try this: One million billion billion billion billion billion billion. That’s a 1 with 60 zeroes after it. That’s the number of potential new medicines that could still be made, according to a new study. It may be more than the number of stars in the universe.

Despite decades of advances in small-molecule medicine, scientists have synthesized “barely one tenth of 1 percent” of the potential drug cocktails that could exist, Swiss researchers say. Most drugs are small molecules, so they can bind to cells or cross cell walls, interacting with the body’s natural processes. A huge molecule could also work to deliver drugs, toting smaller molecules inside it, but the vast majority of medicines are small molecules, because they are small enough to bind with cells and there are plenty of them. Some 67 million such compounds have already been identified, according to the American Chemical Society.

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[Excerpted from Popular Science]