Guest post: Pharmacology 2013 review

The following post is written by my classmate at the University of Bath, and fellow pharmacologist, Andrew Jenkins. Andy did his placement at UCB in Belgium and is a self-confessed lover of all things molecular biology. He’s written a overview of some of his favourite talks at this years annual British Pharmacological Society meeting, Pharmacology 2013. We were very lucky to be given the opportunity to attend due to being undergraduate student members, as well as help with travel costs by the University of Bath pharmacology department. Over to Andy! 


This week witnessed a turning point in the careers of a group of final year undergraduate pharmacologists. Several of us were privileged enough to attend Pharmacology 2013, the winter meeting of the British Pharmacological Society. I’d never been to a scientific conference before, and I have to say I arrived in London on Tuesday morning very unsure of what to expect. Over the course of three days I was absolutely blown away. The opportunities for engagement surpassed my wildest expectations, and everywhere you looked there were world-eminent researchers, leaders in their field, legends of pharmacology, enthusiastic to share their latest mind-boggling results. Everything you could hope for, and I mean everything, was covered; from a company who extract spider venom for biological analysis, to chimaeric receptor subunits for better characterisation of receptor pharmacology, to the utility of faecal transplants in the treatment of depression! Here, I’ll give you a brief run-down of a couple of what I considered ‘the highlights’ from each day.

Tuesday – Targeting localised receptor subpopulations with selective biased agonists

Anyone who knows anything about G protein-coupled receptors will tell you that functional selectivity – the idea that the same receptor can signal through completely different mechanisms dependent on the exact drug with which it is bound – is a huge deal right now. Functional selectivity is a really exciting prospect for drug discovery, but it also means we have to go back and rethink some of the fundamental concepts of GPCR signalling. In potentially the most exciting 35 minutes of my life, Dr Newman-Tancredi from Neurolixis described how his company were targeting drugs to specific localised subpopulations of exactly the same serotonin-1A receptor, using only the diverse expression profiles of their interactomes.

Of course we can’t move on to Wednesday without mentioning the Young Pharmacologists Welcome Reception. This swanky soirée at an exclusive venue in Whitehall was a great opportunity to network with up and coming pharmacologists and discuss career prospects and research perspectives. A great night was had by all, with live music and some fantastic canapés – a big shout out to whoever dreamt up the grape and chicken curry skewers!

Wednesday – 15th Century metabonomic toxicology

In his entertaining and thought-provoking keynote presentation, Prof Ian Wilson of Imperial College was at great pains to demonstrate that metabonomics is not a new discipline. Starting with some of the first recorded medical urine analyses (google the pisse prophets), before talking about the birth of NMR and mass spectrometry’s application to biological analysis almost 40 years ago; Prof Wilson then went on to describe ‘the history of the future’, where people receive personalised medicine on the basis of their own metabolic profile. This was the high-point of a fascinating symposium, which covered the application of metabonomics, proteomics and transcriptomics to all facets of pharmacology, including biomarker discovery, target identification and clinical patient monitoring.

Thursday – The shifting focus of research in psychiatric and affective disorders

In a field where progress has been slow for the last few decades, the curtain was pulled back on a whole expanse of research which has been going on behind the scenes in systems not usually associated with addiction and drug abuse. There were also some great insights provided into the difficulties faced by researchers trying to model complex neurological disorders in animals.

But it was Prof John Cryan from University College Cork who captured the imagination of the entire conference, when he described an astounding series of experiments demonstrating the importance of the gut microbiota for brain development and its relevance to mood. Approaches targeting integrated systems herald a new era of drug discovery in which we might well see therapies with real efficacy against some frighteningly complex conditions.

Excellent gift bags! Image credit: Ieva Satkevičiūtė


 I could only hope to scratch the surface of the sensational happenings at Pharmacology 2013. As well as the symposia I’ve described there were riveting discussions in the oral communication sessions, and the standard amongst the posters was also very high. There were opportunities to talk to sponsors – free stuff! – and to learn more about the phenomenal work of the BPS outreach committee. I hope I’ve given some sort of insight into the amazing time we’ve had this week. I would heartily encourage any young scientists to go along to any conferences they can find. The openness and warmth of the pharmacological world and the enthusiasm and passion for the subject on display have certainly been an inspiration to me, and just reaffirmed my belief that I have the best job in the world ahead of me.


A selction of final year pharmacologist: (L-R) Terry Chapman, Andy Jenkins, Ieva Satkevičiūtė, Hannah Thompson, Livvi Harris


A big thank you to the BPS!

Written by Livvi Harris

Livvi Harris

I am a first year PhD Wellcome Trust PhD student at the Cambridge Stem Cell Institute currently carrying out a year of rotations, so I can’t quite tell you what my PhD is in yet! I am an ex-pharmacologist (or maybe current?!) from the University of Bath, with 15 months experience of industry after working for the oncology pharmacology team at MedImmune in Cambridge for my placement year.

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