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Department of Pharmacology


Course Organiser

Dr Paul Miller
Telephone: +44 (0)1223 3 61267

Alternative contact: Undergraduate Office
Telephone: +44 (0)1223 334000


Course Structure

The course consists of 3 lectures and 1 seminar or practical in most weeks.

The majority of lectures are combined for Medicine and Veterinary Medicine students, and are delivered in the large Chemistry Main Lecture Theatre (entrance opposite the Scott Polar Research Institute), but in Michaelmas Term some lectures are in the Babbage Lecture Theatre (on the New Museums Site).

Some, but not all, lectures for Medicine students only are delivered in either the Anatomy Lecture Theatre or Physiology Lecture Theatre 1. Lectures for the Veterinary Medicine students only will be delivered in the Biffen Lecture Theatre (Department of Genetics) or Mill Lane Lecture Room 6. Seminars are conducted in the main Chemistry Lecture Theatre.

Practical classes take place in the Department of Pharmacology Teaching Laboratories, Level 1. 

There are two Clinical Cases Studies where Medicine and Veterinary Medicine students will be taught separately by clinical lecturers to develop some of the material covered in the main lecture series. Clinical Case Studies will not be examinable by single best answer questions, but information from these case studies will be useful for writing high quality essays in Paper 3.


Course Aims

The Mechanisms of Drug Action course aims to provide an understanding of the basic mechanisms of drug action at the levels of both drug-receptor interactions and the effects on body systems.

Attention is focused not only on the current use of drugs, but also on a framework for evaluating future therapies.


Teaching Objectives

Practical experiments are held on Mondays or Fridays from 2 to 5 pm, they are designed to support and reinforce the lectures and provide an introduction to the experimental basis of the subject.

How much you get out of the practical course will depend chiefly on the amount of effort you are prepared to put into it. In the practicals you are expected to display a small degree of manual dexterity, but more importantly you are asked to think.

By the end of the MODA course, students should have:

  • attained a core knowledge in basic pharmacology, and so laid a secure foundation in the principles of drug action to support future courses in medicine and veterinary medicine which they will carry with them into their professional careers
  • developed their experimental and data analysis skills through a range of experiments carried out in the practical laboratories and attendance at demonstrations and supervisions.


Lecture Topics

  • Drug Interactions with Receptors and Ion Channels (5 lectures)
  • Pharmacology of Peripheral Neural Transmission (5 lectures)
  • Cardiovascular and Renal Pharmacology (6 lectures)
  • Pharmacokinetics, Drug Metabolism, and General Anaesthetics (5 lectures)
  • Pharmacology of Inflammation and Immunosuppression (6 lectures)
  • Chemotherapy (6 lectures)
  • Human Aspects of Cardiovascular and Renal Pharmacology (4 lectures)
  • Anthelmintics (2 lectures)
  • Aspects of Special Veterinary Pharmacology (2 lectures)
  • Ectoparasite Drugs (1 lecture)
  • Neuropharmacology (5 lectures)
  • Veterinary Neuropharmacology (2 lectures)



The entire course is examinable. The format of the MODA examination is governed by an official Form and Conduct Notice issued by the Faculty of Biology.

The examination will test knowledge and understanding of the material contained in the Mechanisms of Drug Action course, and will be in three sections. Sections I and III will together form a written paper, and Section II will be a practical paper.

All three sections contribute to the Tripos mark in these proportions:

  • Section I - 30%
  • Section II - 20%
  • Section III - 50%.

Section I will be a written paper that lasts 90 minutes. Each question is compulsory. Section I covers the whole course in a Single Best Answer (SBA) format. Each question in Section I carries the same mark.

Section II* is a two-hour written practical examination. It consists of two questions and assesses ability in data handing, numerical manipulation, and logical reasoning. Questions may be drawn from any part of the course and will include questions on quantification of receptor-ligand interactions and pharmacokinetics. Each question carries the same mark.

Section III will be a two-hour written paper. Candidates will be provided with a choice of at least six essay questions in Section III, and will be required to answer three. Each question in Section III will carry the same mark.

The 2nd MB qualification will be determined by performance in Sections I (75%) and II (25%) only.

*Before 2018/19, there was the possibility of quantitative receptor pharmacology, pharmacokinetics or trace analysis questions (students were examined on 2 out of these 3 options), but trace analysis questions will no longer be used. Instead, interpretation of experimental data will become part of the quantitative receptor pharmacology and pharmacokinetics questions - please see the 2018 exam papers for examples of this form of question, or the 2014 pharmacokinetics and 2016 ligand-binding questions. 



In general, plagiarism can be defined as: the unacknowledged use of the work of others as if this were your own original work.

In the context of an examination, this amounts to: passing off the work of others as your own to gain unfair advantage.

For further information, places consult the Faculty of Biology’s statement on plagiarism and the University’s statementFurther useful information can be found here.