Pharmacologists investigate how potential medicines interact with biological systems, undertaking in vitro research (using cells or animal tissues) or in vivo research (using whole animals) to predict what effect the drug might have in humans.
Pharmacologists aim to understand how drugs work so they can be used effectively and safely. They also conduct research to aid drug discovery and development. Their work involves a high level of collaboration with other scientists.
Areas of specialism include:
- clinical pharmacology - carrying out work involving the effects of medicines on people within clinical trial studies;
- neuropharmacology - studying the effect of chemicals on the nervous system; and
- regulatory pharmacology.
Closely related fields include toxicology, biochemistry and DMPK (drug metabolism and pharmacokinetics).
Typical work activities
Much of the role is laboratory-based, working as part of a scientific research team, and may include the following activities:
- designing, planning and conducting controlled experiments to improve understanding of a compound's activity;
- using computers, high technology measuring systems and other sophisticated equipment to collect, analyse and interpret complex data;
- applying and developing the results of research to work through a variety of applications, such as new products, processes, techniques and practices;
- drawing up proposals for future developmental tests;
- organising and overseeing tests of new drugs and medicines, ensuring quality control and securing approval for their use;
- liaising with regulatory authorities to ensure compliance with local, national and international regulations;
- planning, coordinating and supervising the duties of other technical staff and training and/or mentoring early-career pharmacologists.
Disseminating the results of work to others is important, as is maintaining an awareness of other pharmacological research. This may involve:
- reading specialist literature - being aware of scientific developments and how these might be applied to research;
- sharing results and findings with colleagues and team members in group meetings;
- producing written reports - if you work in a contract research laboratory, you will be required to submit reports to your customers in the pharmaceutical industry. Written reports are also required to obtain approval of medicines by regulatory authorities;
- writing original papers based on your findings for submission to specialist publications;
- attending scientific meetings and conferences in order to present posters, give talks, and listen to presentations from fellow pharmacologists and key opinion leaders.