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Subject Summary: Part II Pharmacology

The course emphasises the mechanisms of drug action at the molecular and cellular level and the consequent effects on organ systems and the whole animal including man. A recurrent theme is the recognition of chemical substances by biological structures and how this recognition produces a biological response. Topics considered in relation to this general theme are drug design, membrane ion channels, intracellular messengers, neurobiology, cancer chemotherapy, and the pharmacology of epithelial and endothelial systems. Some aspects of current and future clinical applications of drugs are discussed. There is no formal system of options and the timetable has been devised so that it is possible to attend every lecture. This structure provides for a wide diversity of interest and allows considerable personal choice in the selection of topics for more intensive study. The examinations are structured to take this provision for choice into account.

The course work consists of lectures, discussion groups, technique talks and a research project. Discussion groups consist of 10 students and two members of academic staff; they meet four times a term during both Michaelmas and Lent Terms. During these informal meetings students present literature-based and project-based seminars and practice presenting facts and arguments. In the second term, students work on a research project. The results of the project are presented by the student at a seminar in the third term, and the work is written up as a short dissertation. 

Most students entering this course have taken either Part IB of the Medical and Veterinary Sciences Tripos or Part IB Pharmacology in the Natural Sciences Tripos. However, Natural Scientists who have taken any biological subject or Chemistry A and/or B are encouraged to enquire. 

The final examination consists of four written papers, submission of the project report, an oral presentation of the project, and, in some cases, a viva voce examination. There are substantial vocational opportunities for natural scientists reading pharmacology as well as for medical students who do so before proceeding to clinical studies. 

Programme Specification: Part II Pharmacology

This course is taught by the Department of Pharmacology.


  1. to provide a balanced and critical treatment of pharmacology with an emphasis on understanding the mechanisms of drug action at every level of biological organisation;
  2. to enable students to achieve research-level knowledge and understanding in selected areas of pharmacology;
  3. to provide a training in research skills through the provision of a laboratory-based supervised research project;
  4. to provide students with analytical and presentational skills.

Learning outcomes

At the end of the course students should:

  1. be able to think critically and with appropriate knowledge over a wide spectrum of pharmacology;
  2. be able to analyse and assess their own research methods, and results obtained during their research project;
  3. be able to communicate their own results and the work of others to scientific and more general audiences in both oral and written presentations;
  4. be able to undertake searches of the scientific literature as the basis for critical evaluation of the retrieved information;
  5. be able to assess the feasibility of published techniques and methods to solve pharmacological problems.

Teaching and learning methods

These include lectures, supervisions, discussion groups, technique talks and research projects.


Assessment for this course is through:

  • four written unseen examinations (for aims 1-2 and 4 and learning outcomes 1 and 3-5); 
  • a dissertation based on a research project undertaken by the student over an eight-week period (for aims 2-4 and learning outcomes 2-5);
  • judgement of the student’s oral presentational skills by Part II examiners (for aims 3-4 and learning outcomes 2 and 3).

Courses of Preparation

Essential: Part IB of the NST, including either one biological subject or Chemistry A and/or B.

Recommended: NST Part IB Pharmacology; or Part IB of the Medical and Veterinary Sciences Tripos.

Additional Information

Further information is available on the Course Websites pages.