Modern pharmacology developed from the concept that particular chemicals are biologically active and can be used to modify, cure or prevent illness. In practice, this requires a detailed understanding of both how the body functions (physiologically and biochemically) and the problems which can occur (functional disturbances and pathology).

Areas of study

Pharmacology involves the study and description of the actions of drugs and chemicals on cells, tissues and the whole body. It includes researching how drugs produce beneficial and adverse effects, and improving the way drugs are tested to give greater benefit in the treatment of disease. The cellular and chemical abnormalities of disease states are studied in the expectation that molecules may be designed specifically to correct the abnormality. The study of pharmacology requires the understanding of normal body functions (biochemistry and physiology) and the disturbances that occur.

Toxicology is closely related to pharmacology but specialises in the study of the harmful effects of drugs and other chemicals on biological systems. A toxicologist is trained to examine the nature of these effects, including their cellular, biochemical and molecular mechanisms of action; and assess the potential effects on human health and environmental significance of various types of chemical exposures. The variety of potential adverse effects and the diversity of chemicals in the environment make toxicology a very broad science. In brief, pharmacologists and toxicologists aim to develop a better understanding of drugs and chemicals and their actions on biological systems for the improvement of human and animal health.

You can study Pharmacology in the following programmes:

Career opportunities

The subjects of Pharmacology and Toxicology are of great practical and commercial relevance in view of the widespread use and abuse of medicines, drugs and chemicals in modern society. Their future expansion appears assured as there remain many illnesses (AIDS, cancer, even the common cold) for which satisfactory cures have not yet been devised. In addition, industrial, chemical and pharmaceutical developments, environmental contamination, and illicit drug use will contine to present significant health hazards to the general population.

With an MSc in Pharmacology you could teach or conduct research in higher education institutions, work in the pharmaceutical industry, research and develop new medicines, conduct clinical research, work in regulatory and marketing divisions of industry, or develop chemicals. Other fields may include safety aspects of chemicals (used in food processing and agricultural industies) and the assessment of the safety of medicines, employment in hospitals, careers in medical editing, abstracting and publishing, and environmental toxicology.

More information

Welcome to the world of Medical Sciences

Pharmacology Postgraduate Study options

2016 Pharmacology and Clinical Pharmacology Handbook