skip to content

Department of Pharmacology



Latest information


An Introduction from our Head of Department

Research and teaching in the Department of Pharmacology is focused on how drugs work: from how they act at the molecular level, to their effects on the human body.

The department has 14 independent research groups and teaches pharmacology to medicine, veterinary medicine, and natural sciences undergraduate students. We are one of the largest university pharmacology departments in the UK and are consistently ranked top in university league tables.

Research in the department falls under four major themes:

  • ion channels and receptors
  • pain mechanisms
  • mechanisms of drug action
  • molecular therapeutics.

We are actively involved in the translation of fundamental bioscience into new treatments and diagnostics. To this end, we are leveraging the outstanding basic research, clinical and commercial environment of the University of Cambridge, the Cambridge Biomedical Campus and the greater Cambridge area.

We also believe that for our research to have the greatest impact it must be informed by and integrated into society, and consequently we are passionate about engaging the public in our research and widening participation in the field of pharmacology.

Professor Laura Itzhaki



Our Research Facilities

The department is well equipped with communal facilities for microscopy (including confocal microscopy), molecular biology, cell culture, centrifugation, liquid scintillation counting and computing.

Members of the department can also access many inter-departmental facilities such as the Cambridge Advanced Imaging Centre (confocal microscopy, SEM, TEM), structural biology (Cryo-EM, X-ray crystallography, NMR) and biophysics facilties.

Find out more about the Deparment's research activities.



Our Teaching

The staff of the department provide undergraduate teaching to students in the Natural Sciences Tripos (NST), the Medical Sciences Tripos (MVST), and the Veterinary Sciences Tripos (VetST).

More than 370 undergraduates reading MVST take our Mechanisms of Drug Action (MODA) course in their second year. We are also major contributors to the interdepartmental second-year MVST course on Neurobiology.

74 students studying NST take our second-year course in Pharmacology. We are also major contributors to the second-year NST course in Neurobiology.

In the third year, our major course is Part II Pharmacology, taken by about 60 students, which is open to students with both medical and science backgrounds. This is an advanced course consisting of lectures on research at the forefront of modern pharmacological science and a research project that occupies the entire second term.

We also offer a Part II BBS course, taken by about 20 students, which shares lectures with Part II Pharmacology but in which an extended dissertation replaces the experimental research project.

Supervisions (known as tutorials in other universities) in which students meet their supervisors weekly in groups of 2-4 students are an essential component of Cambridge teaching.

Supervisions are arranged through colleges, but most staff (in their capacities as College Fellows) are also responsible for supervising students in Pharmacology.

Find out more about undergraduate teaching in the Department.



History of the Department

In 1919, Walter Ernest Dixon was appointed Reader in Pharmacology at Cambridge University. Dixon played a major role in the establishment of a Department of Pharmacology at Cambridge.

The Wellcome Trust provided the financial support for the construction of a wooden building and circa 1965 the Dixon ‘hut’ was erected in the quadrangle of the Downing site. Its acquisition more than doubled the space available to the Department[1]. 

Photo courtesy of BJB - Copyright 2001, Nature Publishing Group. The Dixon ‘Hut'.

Since then, the Dixon ‘Hut' has been demolished and replaced with the McDonald Institute and occupied by archaeologists.

In 1971, the department relocated from the Downing site to the Addenbrooke’s site. In 1989, the department transferred to a new building located on Tennis Court Road.

The Sheild Professorship of Pharmacology was originally established by grace of 7 June 1946 as a personal chair for the tenure of Ernest Basil Verney. By grace of 11 March 1961, the Professorship was re-established on a permanent basis. The Professorship is named in honour of the surgeon Marmaduke Sheild.


In 1962, Arnold S V Burgen (later Sir Arnold Burgen) was appointed to the Sheild Chair (later Master of Darwin College).

In 1973, Gustav Victor Rudolf Born (son of Max Born) was appointed to the 3rd Sheild Professorship of Pharmacology. 

In 1979, Alan W Cuthbert was appointed to the 4th holder of the Sheild Chair (later Master of Fitzwilliam College). 

In 1999, Peter A McNaughton was appointed to the Sheild Professorship.

In 2016, Mike Edwardson was appointed to the Sheild Professorship.


[1] Alan Cuthbert, The Man Who Never Was – Walter Ernest Dixon, British Journal of Pharmacology, 2001