Pharmacology is the study of how drugs work at the molecular, cellular and physiological level.

The first term gives an introduction to how receptors work; for example how they recognise drugs and how these molecular interactions lead to changes in cellular signalling pathways. Lectures continue with a series on the role of in silico modelling in drug discovery. You will then move on to synaptic pharmacology. The last part of Michaelmas will be focused on chemotherapy: broadly speaking, this includes drugs used to fight bacteria, viruses, parasites and cancerous cells. The last lecture will be held by an external speaker from a pharmaceutical industry that will talk about biologics drug discovery which deals with drugs such as engineered antibodies.

The second term begins with pharmacokinetics i.e. the study of the processes that control the distribution and fate of drugs in the human body. General anaesthetics are used as an example to show the importance of the pharmacokinetic aspects of drug action. You will then look at drugs involved in endocrinology, reproduction and diabetes. These lectures will be followed by a series on drugs used to fight inflammation and peripheral pain. The second half of Lent is taken up by a series on cardiovascular and renal pharmacology. This series looks at the physiology of the most common cardiovascular pathologies (eg angina, dysrhythmias, hypertension, atherosclerosis  etc…) and how drugs can be used to treat them.

Easter term lectures deal with the central nervous system and the drugs used to treat neuroses and psychoses such as depression and schizophrenia. You will also look at diseases such as epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease and their treatments. This lecture series also includes the pharmacology behind drug abuse, addiction and the recreational use of CNS stimulants.

The practicals are meant to show how actual data is obtained, to consolidate the theory and to teach how to interpret the data which is useful in the practical paper. The demonstrators are helpful and if you and your lab partner are organised you can usually finish with time to spare. There is also a mini-project which takes up five practical sessions (3 for experimental work, 1 for analysis and 1 for presentation) for which you write up your results into a poster.


Although there is an element of drug name learning, you mostly need to know the main ones, ask you supervisor for advice on which you must know if not clear from the lectures. It is a lot more important to remember how different drug classes work.

There are three exams. Paper 1 is a one hour exam with ten short questions and Paper 2 is three hours long in which you choose five questions to write short essays. The practical paper has three questions which require some known equations and a bit of practise but you will have done a fair few by the time of the exams. Sample practical exam questions are usually done in supervisions, but you will also have 3 seminars during the course of the year that explain how to tackle the 3 types of questions in the exam.

There is a recommended standard textbook that covers in varying detail pretty much everything on the course: Rang, H. (2015). Rang and Dale’s pharmacology(Eighth ed.). The college library also offers the condensed version of Rang and Dale’s and flash cards as well as  books to practice 2 of the 3 types of practical exam questions: Koenig, J. (2015). Drug receptor interactions and Koenig, J. (2010). A guide to calculations in pharmacokinetics (Revised ed.). Cambridge: Science Etc.

More information can be found at:

The Natural Sciences Society of St John's College