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Action and reaction

Discovering drugs, conducting basic and applied research, medical writing – good pharmacologists have a range of options to choose from, reports Rahat Bano.

education Updated: Sep 22, 2011 11:50 IST
Rahat Bano

Did you know that almost everybody is a practising pharmacologist? “If you have a throat infection, what does your mother advise you?” asks KK Pillai, head and professor, department of pharmacology, Jamia Hamdard. She will most probably tell you to gargle with saline water. “Sodium chloride (table salt) is antiseptic and works in the case of a throat infection. Your mother is practising pharmacology though she may not know it,” says Pillai. Animals who treat themselves by licking their wounds, are using tried and tested pharmacology. “The zinc in a dog’s saliva has antiseptic properties,” says the professor.

That’s pharmacology in nature. In the hi-tech world, it’s a specialised area of study which accommodates people from diverse disciplines, including medicine (MD/DNB in pharmacology), dentistry, pharmacy, veterinary science, microbiology, virology, and certain basic sciences as well.

“Pharmacology is a very broad area,” says BP Srinivasan, officiating director and professor of pharmacology, Delhi Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Research (DIPSAR). Even professionals in allied sciences such as physiotherapy have to be familiar with this discipline. “They must know about, for example, analgesics, muscle relaxants etc,” adds Srinivasan.

The major career avenue for those with an MPharm degree in pharmacology is the pharmaceutical sector, where they hold lab and non-lab profiles.

“In R&D, they are involved in the area of drug discovery. And they do both basic and applied research,” says Pillai.

In the pharmaceutical sector, pharmacologists also undertake medical writing, which would mean preparing product profiles for physicians and product information (inserted into drug packets). They train people for sales and marketing and can later move to managerial positions.

Pharmacologists also work with the Drug Controller General of India, (under Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation), which is responsible for approval of licences of specific categories of drugs such as blood and blood products, IV fluids, vaccines and sera. “Many of our students find jobs there,” says Srinivasan.

Pharmaceutical companies requiring clinical research, and contract research organisations (CROs) offer many opportunities. “So many companies want to launch their products in India. (Before launching a drug), clinical trials have to be done on the Indian population,” says Srinivasan.

“They are important members in teams conducting all kinds of clinical trials, from phase 0 to 4,” says Pillai.

Pharmacologists can also get into drugs database preparation. “You prepare databases which are in high demand by physicians,” says Srinivasan.

Adds Pillai, “They can set up drug information centres. This is a new area. They can join hands with IT professionals and make drug information software.”

In recent years, the knowledge process outsourcing industry, too, has started absorbing pharmacologists.

Another field is intellectual property rights (IPR) protection, where MPharms in pharmacology can provide technical expertise to patent attorneys.

For teaching as well as research, one can get into not only pharmacy colleges but also other, sister-discipline institutions.

“I have a former student (in a management position) earning a package of more than a crore a year. If you are good, there is no dearth of jobs,” says Pillai.

What's it about?
The term pharmacology comes from Greek pharmacon (drug) and logio (study). Pharmacologists study the action of drugs on the human (or animal) body and the body’s reaction to these.

When it comes to testing drugs on patients/subjects, those with MPharm degrees in pharmacology work under the supervision of a medical pharmacologist (with MD, DNB or DM qualifications). An MPharm will have knowledge of physical and chemical properties of a drug whereas medical pharmacologists have to have knowlege of human physiology and anatomy

Clock Work
An average work day of a pharmacologist working in clinical/ regulatory affairs and medico marketing, which are the current areas in demand, looks like this
9 am: Review previous day’s work. Prepare for the day. Fix up telecons
10 am to 1 pm: Preparation and review of documents and reports/ visit the clinical investigator to coordinate, assist and monitor the clinical research/ trial
1 to 2 pm: Lunch
2 to 5 pm: Meeting with a government official in one of the various regulatory agencies, such as Drug Controller General of India office/ Central Drug Laboratory/ Central Drug Testing Laboratory/ National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority/ Indian Council of Medical Research/ Ministry of Health and Family Welfare/ Directorate General of Health Services/ Ministry of Agriculture/ Ministry of Commerce
Visit the clinical investigator to coordinate, assist and monitor clinical research/trial
5-8 pm: Sum up the whole day’s activities, writing reports, telecon and video-con with headquarters and overseas sponsor
8.30 pm: Sign off for the day

The Payoff
The starting salary of fresh MPharms in pharmacology is anything between Rs20,000 to Rs35,000 a month in pharmaceutical companies. In a KPO firm, the annual package is about Rs7 lakh to Rs9 lakh

Skills
. Good background in physiology, pathophysiology, biochemistry, chemistry and microbiology
. Analytical and communication skills
. Patience, especially for lab work

How do i get there?
. Opt for science in Classes 11 and 12. Take a BPharm degree, followed by an MPharm degree in pharmacology. There are also MD and DNB programmes in pharmacology, which require the MBBS
route. Plus, some institutes admit students of related basic sciences as well.
A PhD degree is desirable, though as BP Srinivasan, professor of pharmacology at DIPSAR, says, “Once you get into the industry, what matters is your output”

Institutes & urls
. National Institute of Pharmaceutical Education and Research, Mohali (Punjab)
www.niper.ac.in
. Delhi Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Research, Delhi
www.dipsar.in
. LM College of Pharmacy, Ahmedabad
www.gujaratuniversity.org.in/web/WebPharmacy.asp
. Jamia Hamdard, Delhi
www.jamiahamdard.edu
. University Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Panjab University, Chandigarh
www.puchd.ac.in

Pros & cons


.

Good employment opportunities


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Can choose between lab and non-lab-based work


.

Scope for jobs overseas


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Intellectually very demanding work


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Assimilate and disseminate knowledge for the benefit of the public

Pharmacovigilance is now important

A professor talks about the field’s scope and challenges

What is the scope of a pharmacologist’s work in the world? With few new drugs being developed in India, how is it in India?
The scope is immense as pharmacologists are important members of drug discovery teams in search of newer molecules in the pharmaceutical industry.

Pharmacologists can act as very good reviewers of pharmacological action and adverse reactions of drugs under consideration by various regulatory agencies throughout the world. They can also be a part of a clinical research team conducting the various phases of clinical trials before the introduction of new drugs into the market.

Pharmacologists can be good educators for new students of pharmacology, to train them in the various theoretical and practical aspects of drug actions either by in vitro or in vivo experiments. They can even take up journalistic careers by publishing in various journals, newsletters, and books, thereby disseminating knowledge of newer drugs as well as giving indications about the adverse reactions of existing drugs. They may be involved in the formulation of national drug policies involving the introduction of essential drugs, and preparation of standard treatment charts for various diseases. They can be consultants to various health bodies such as the World Health Organisation.

Pharmacologists in India could work in organisations dealing with research and development, in the pharmaceutical industry, in the field of education, in clinical research, in regulatory affairs involving governmental bodies and pharmaceutical companies, in preparation of standard treatment charts, and preparation of national formulary.

Not only this, pharmacists play an important role in pharmacovigilance, which is becoming very important. Also, they could be involved in pharmacogenetics, which is about the action of drugs (on) racial genetic groups and a lot of data is needed in the context of the Indian population.

Furthermore, in medical departments of pharmaceutical companies, preparation of literature and documentation for doctors is being done by pharmacologists.

Are there new responsibilities for pharmacologists?
As mentioned earlier, pharmacovigilance is a newer field where the role of the pharmacist is becoming very important. That goes for pharmacogenetics too.

What are the challenges before pharmacologists in the country?
Many uncharted spheres in the case of research where some medical areas, for example drugs used for leprosy and leismaniases, need special intervention. And also research in disease states prevalent in the Indian sub-continent where western society is not much interested. Apart from that, areas giving challenges to pharmacologists in India include diseases such as tuberculosis and diabetes.

BP Srinivasan, officiating director, Delhi Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Research Interviewed by Rahat Bano