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Pharmacology: How Drugs Work (PHRM20001)

Undergraduate level 2Points: 12.5On Campus (Parkville)

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Year of offer2017
Subject levelUndergraduate Level 2
Subject codePHRM20001
Semester 2
FeesSubject EFTSL, Level, Discipline & Census Date

Pharmacology is an exciting discipline that provides insight into the mechanisms of action and beneficial and unwanted effects of drugs in the body. This is achieved by integrating knowledge from a range of biosciences including how the body works in health and disease. This subject uses specific examples of instantly recognizable and newly developed drugs to demonstrate how pharmacologists identify drug targets, design new drugs and test their therapeutic effectiveness.

Intended learning outcomes

  • To provide an understanding of the basic principles of drug action, this subject focuses on receptor sites that mediate drug action and the physiological and biochemical mechanisms associated with the response to a drug. In addition, the subject investigates the ways in which drugs are handled by the body in terms of their absorption, distribution and metabolism.The activity of hormones and drugs, including commonly used therapeutic agents for cancer, hypertension, asthma and depression are utilised to illustrate these principles. The subject also examines the development of new drugs from natural sources or new chemical syntheses and how these drugs are evaluated and regulated. Aspects of drugs of abuse and addiction and the potential strategies for dealing with this problem are explored. The principles of selective toxicity, the toxicology of environmental contaminants and aspects of venoms and toxins are also examined.
  • The practical course is provided to reinforce the lecture material, and to give hands-on experience in experiments that illustrate the basic concepts of the pharmacological concentration-response relationship, competitive antagonism and pharmacodynamic and pharmacokinetic principles.

Generic skills

By the end of this subject students should have:

  • an understanding of the scientific basis of the action of the drugs

and developed skills in

  • experimental design and techniques
  • use of information technology resources for data analysis and interpretation.
  • critical thinking and problem solving
  • effective participation in small group work

Eligibility and requirements


Students should have successfully completed level 1 subjects in Chemistry AND Biology (combined value of 37.5 points).

Students wishing to undertake this subject as breadth will need the approval of the subject co-ordinator.



Non-allowed subjects

This subject cannot be taken if credit has been previously obtained for 534-201 Fundamentals of Pharmacology.

Core participation requirements

The University of Melbourne is committed to providing students with reasonable adjustments to assessment and participation under the Disability Standards for Education (2005), and the Assessment and Results Policy (MPF1326). Students are expected to meet the core participation requirements for their course. These can be viewed under Entry and Participation Requirements for the course outlines in the Handbook.

Further details on how to seek academic adjustments can be found on the Student Equity and Disability Support website: http://services.unimelb.edu.au/student-equity/home



  • Continuing assessment of practical and computer-aided learning work during the semester (20%).
  • Mid-semester assessment (20%).
  • A 2-hour written examination in the examination period (60%).

This subject has a practical component. Completion of 80% of the practicals, and practical-related exercises, is a hurdle requirement.

Dates & times

  • Semester 2
    Principal coordinatorGraham Mackay
    CoordinatorMichelle Hansen
    Mode of deliveryOn Campus — Parkville
    Contact hoursLectures, 3x weekly; Tutorials / workshops (1 hr) 6 / semester; Practicals (3hr) 2 / semester (total contact hours: 48)
    Total time commitment170 hours
    Teaching period24 July 2017 to 22 October 2017
    Last self-enrol date 4 August 2017
    Census date31 August 2017
    Last date to withdraw without fail22 September 2017
    Assessment period ends17 November 2017

    Semester 2 contact information

    Subject Coordinators

    Dr Graham MacKay:


    Dr Michelle Hansen


    Administrative Coordinator


Time commitment details

170 hours

Further information

Prescribed texts

Course manual (provided)

Recommended texts and other resources

Although there are no prescribed textbooks for Pharmacology the following textbooks are
recommended. All are available in the Brownless library.

Harvey: Pharmacology, 4th edition. Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins

Rang, Dale, Ritter, Flower and Henderson, Pharmacology, 7th edition. Churchill Livingstone

Katzung, Basic and Clinical Pharmacology, 12th edition. Lange

Golan, Principles of Pharmacology, (3rd edition). Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins.

Neal, Medical Pharmacology at a Glance (7th edition). Blackwell. (revision purposes)


This subject is available to students enrolled in the BSc, Biomedicine degree.

Special requirements: laboratory coat.

Experiments involving the use of animals are an essential part of this subject; exemption is not possible.

Related majors/minors/specialisations

Breadth options

This subject is available as breadth in the following courses:

Last updated: 22 March 2018