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Department of Pharmacology

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What is Pharmacology?

Pharmacology is the science concerned with the study of drugs and how they work. To pharmacologists, a drug is any chemical agent which produces a recognisable biological effect.

Pharmacology is also concerned with the search for new drugs and how they can best be used in the treatment of diseases in both humans and animals. Some more information about pharmacology is given by the British Pharmacological Society.

Pharmacology is different from Pharmacy (a pharmacist is someone qualified to prepare and dispense drugs). Pharmacy is not taught at the University of Cambridge, but details of Pharmacy courses are available from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain.


Pharmacology at Cambridge

At Cambridge, Pharmacology is studied in the second and third years as part of the Natural Sciences Tripos (NST) Part II course and Biological and Biomedical Sciences (BBS) Part II course.

The Pharmacology Department runs the Mechanisms of Drug Action course and participates in the Neurobiology with Human Behaviour Course. These are studied by all BBS students in the second year.

Admission to undergraduate courses is by application to a College of the University. Besides the information to be found on this page, you can find information about how you can apply to Cambridge (including details about courses, Colleges and admissions interviews) here.



Why study Pharmacology?

Pharmacology is an expanding science: fundamental research in pharmacology has already contributed to major advances in the development of drugs to treat or avert pain, heart attacks, diabetes, asthma, cancer, Parkinson's disease and many other disorders.

As we have come to understand more and more of how the body functions - and a great deal of this understanding stems from analysis of the actions of drugs - so new molecular targets have been uncovered for pharmacologists to aim at.

Basic, fundamental and innovative research in pharmacology is carried out in universities but pharmaceutical companies in Britain are vigorous and successful and have an excellent reputation for applied research and drug discovery.

Scientists well qualified in pharmacology are required to maintain this strong research base on an international scale.

Students who have studied Pharmacology as Natural Scientists at Cambridge go on to wide variety of careers.

These include basic or applied biological and clinical research in universities and other institutions, drug development in the pharmaceutical industry, as well as work in the financial sector, management and consultancy.

Studying Pharmacology at Cambridge

Pharmacology in Cambridge is studied in the second (Part IB) and third (Part II) years of the Natural Sciences Tripos (NST) following appropriate subjects in the first year (Part IA).

It is also studied by all Medical and Veterinary Students in their second year (Part IB) as 'Mechanisms of Drug Action' (MoDA). Medical and Veterinary students can also take Part II NST Pharmacology.

The Pharmacology course is particularly suitable for those Natural Sciences students who have taken the courses in Biology of Cells, Physiology of Organisms, or Chemistry in the first year of the Natural Sciences Tripos.

It is possible (and not at all unusual) for students who have entered Cambridge to study primarily 'physical science' subjects to take the IB Pharmacology course (providing they have taken the first year chemistry course).

Normally, Natural Sciences students take three courses in their second year, of which Pharmacology may be one.

The Part II (final year) course is taken alone, the whole year being devoted to one subject. Detailed information on the Part II course is given here.

The Pharmacology course for second year science students

This course deals with the principles of drug action at the cellular, subcellular and molecular levels.

Emphasis is on the importance of the chemical structure of drug molecules and their interaction with receptors, ion channels, and the signal transduction process and also on the molecular biology and molecular structure of the receptors themselves.

Topics studied include:

  • the design of drugs and the way the body processes them
  • the use of drugs in the chemotherapy of bacterial and viral infections and cancer
  • the pharmacological actions of drugs on the major integrated systems of the body, including the cardiovascular system and the brain.

The practical course is designed to give as wide an experience as possible of pharmacological methods and to illustrate experimentally material covered in the lecture course.

Detailed information on the Part IB Natural Sciences course is given here.

Further information on Pharmacology courses may be obtained from the relevant course organiser listed below:

  • MVST IB - Dr Paul Miller
  • NST IB - Dr Walid Khaled
  • BBS & NST Part II - Dr David Bulmer



As well as being taught in the Department of Pharmacology, students are also taught in their Colleges. Most of the Members of the Department of Pharmacology's teaching staff, and some research staff are Fellows of Colleges. Details of staff members' Colleges can be found here.

Although some Colleges do not have Fellows from the Department of Pharmacology, they make arrangements with those Colleges that do have Fellows to organise College teaching in Pharmacology so that no student is put at a disadvantage through his or her choice of College.

Pharmacology course timetables

The online lecture list provides information on all lectures that are held at the University, including venue and time of each lecture.

As a matriculated student, you are entitled to attend any lectures (but not classes or practicals) of any degree course.

Students wishing to attend lectures for a subject for which they are not registered will be permitted to do so only if there is room for them in the lecture theatre.

Please check the details published by the Faculty or Department concerned before attending such lectures as you may be required to sign up in advance.

You can find all Pharmacology lectures and practicals timetables here.

Postgraduate research

Students wishing to pursue research in the Department of Pharmacology leading to a postgraduate degree should see the Department's page on the current year's PhD programme.

There is also much useful information in the University's Graduate Studies Prospectus.

There are no taught postgraduate courses run by the Department.