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Study Pharmacology at Otago

The science behind drugs.

Pharmacology is the science of the effects of drugs on biological systems, from the molecular level through to patient studies.

Toxicology is the study of the harmful effects of chemicals. Toxicology courses at Otago cover both environmental and human toxicology, with a particular emphasis on drugs and drug development.

Pharmacology and Toxicology are at the forefront of modern medicine with a focus on developing drugs to treat important conditions, such as cancer, diabetes, neurological conditions and heart disease. Understanding Pharmacology is key to advancing research in almost all areas of biomedical research, while Toxicology is key to understanding human impacts in a changing world.

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Why study Pharmacology and Toxicology?

Most people are interested in pharmacology because drugs occupy such a prominent place in everyday life. Constant progress in medicine involves the design of new drugs that can cure cancer, cardiovascular disease, neurological disorders and other medical conditions.

Pharmacology incorporates and applies a variety of biological sciences, such as biochemistry, chemistry, physiology, microbiology and genetics. Unlike pharmacy, which is about the preparation and dispensing of drugs, pharmacology is the science behind how drugs produce their effects on the body and what the body does to the drugs. Pharmacology also plays a key role in developing drugs of the future.

Toxicology at Otago examines the harmful effects of chemicals on the human body, as well as understanding the impact of chemicals on the environment and in our food supply.

A good knowledge of pharmacology and toxicology is also an important part of the training of medical doctors, pharmacists, dentists, nurses and physiotherapists. Other scientists often find pharmacology useful in their own specialisation. For example, physiologists, biochemists, zoologists and psychologists may use drugs to understand the biological system or disease they are studying.

Career opportunities

Graduates of our department go on to a wide range of careers including research, governmental, administration, and advisory positions.

Major employers include the National Poisons Centre, MedSafe, Pharmac, the Ministry of Health, Crown Research Institutes, universities, and pharmaceutical companies.

Pharmacology and Toxicology are also popular choices for students seeking a career in the professional medical sciences (e.g. Medicine or Pharmacy) or those pursuing a double degree in Law, Commerce, or Education.

Pharmacology and Toxicology at Otago

We offer two specialised undergraduate degrees: a Bachelor of Science (BSc) majoring in Pharmacology and Toxicology, and a Bachelor of Biomedical Science (BBioMedSci) majoring in Drugs and Human Health.

A minor in Environmental Toxicology is also available.

First year of study

To study Pharmacology you must take both Chemistry (CHEM 191) and Biochemistry (BIOC 192) courses at the first-year level. You will also need to complete an additional two biomedical science papers in an area such as cell and molecular biology (CELS 191, BIOL 112, BIOL 123), or human body systems (HUBS 191, HUBS 192).

Many students enrol in Health Sciences First Year (HSFY) and this will provide you with the requisite subjects to continue your study in pharmacology and toxicology.

Second year

You can choose to pursue Pharmacology as your major, in which case you will take two core papers (PHAL 211 and PHAL 221) which cover the basic principles of pharmacology, toxicology, and drug discovery, and will introduce the major drug classes currently used to treat disease.

For students who wish to include Pharmacology and Toxicology as part of their studies in other areas, the semester 2 paper PHAL 221 provides an in-depth exploration of the process of drug discovery from basic research through to clinical use. This paper is the ideal addition to any biomedical science course.

Third year

The four papers on offer allow students to explore key topics in depth, including neuropharmacology (PHAL 303), clinical pharmacology (PHAL 304), molecular and immunopharmacology (PHAL 305), and toxicology (PHAL 306).

Teaching style

As a small department, we have a friendly and helpful relationship with our students and our teaching staff routinely receive excellent feedback.

All pharmacology and toxicology papers are taught through a combination of lectures and tutorials, and laboratory practical sessions.

Practical sessions range from the use of modern cellular techniques through to human clinical trials.

Research at Otago

All our teaching staff are engaged in cutting-edge Pharmacology and Toxicology research, seeking to develop new drugs and address toxicological problems.

Areas of particular expertise include:

  • Cancer drug development and treatment
  • Cannabinoids
  • Cardiovascular health and cardioprotection
  • Environmental toxicology
  • Human toxicology
  • Inflammation and wound healing
  • Neuropharmacology and auditory pharmacology

Postgraduate opportunities

There are many postgraduate study opportunities including honours, master's, and PhD degrees specialising in either Pharmacology or Toxicology. Research students work in our established laboratories using a range of modern techniques. Interdisciplinary research is available through the MSc in Toxicology which permits study across multiple departments.

Background required

There are no secondary school subject requirements for entry into Pharmacology.

Students must meet the prerequisites for entry into second-year papers as outlined in the University Guidelines and are encouraged to maintain Biology and Chemistry to Year 13.


Pharmacology as a minor subject for a BA, MusB, BPA, BTheol, BSc, BCom, BEntr, BHealSc, BACom, BASc or BComSc degree

Available as a minor subject for a Bachelor of Arts (BA), Bachelor of Music (MusB), Bachelor of Performing Arts (BPA), Bachelor of Theology (BTheol), Bachelor of Science (BSc), Bachelor of Commerce (BCom), Bachelor of Entrepreneurship (BEntr), Bachelor of Health Science (BHealSc), Bachelor of Arts and Commerce (BACom), Bachelor of Arts and Science (BASc) or Bachelor of Commerce and Science (BComSc) degree


See Below


PHAL 211 Introductory Pharmacology

PHAL 221 Drug Discovery and Development

one 200-level ANAT, BIOC, GENE, MICR or PHSL paper

(i) Prerequisites for PHAL 211 are BIOC 192, CHEM 191, and two of CELS 191, HUBS 191, HUBS 192, BIOL 112, BIOL 123, PTWY 131*, PTWY 132*.
(ii) Prerequisites for PHAL 221 are two of BIOC 192, CELS 191, CHEM 111, CHEM 191, HUBS 191, HUBS 192, BIOL 112, BIOL 123, PTWY 131*, PTWY 132* and 54 further points.





Two of:
PHAL 303 Neuropharmacology
PHAL 304 Human Pharmacology
PHAL 305 Molecular and Immunopharmacology
PHAL 306 Human Toxicology



* PTWY 131 and PTWY 132 are only available to students enrolled in the Diploma in Science.

Total 90

PHAL papers

Paper Code Year Title Points Teaching period
PHAL211 2024 Introduction to Pharmacology and Toxicology 18 Semester 2
PHAL221 2024 Drug Discovery and Development 18 Semester 1
PHAL231 2024 Drugs and Society 18 Not offered in 2024
PHAL303 2024 Neuropharmacology 18 Semester 2
PHAL304 2024 Human Pharmacology 18 Semester 2
PHAL305 2024 Molecular and Immunopharmacology 18 Semester 1
PHAL306 2024 Human Toxicology 18 Not offered in 2024
PHAL307 2024 Current Topic 18 Full Year
PHAL421 2024 General Pharmacology and Toxicology 20 Semester 1
PHAL423 2024 Neuropharmacology 20 Full Year
PHAL428 2024 Current Research Literature in Toxicology 20 Not offered in 2024
PHAL430 2024 Advanced Topic in Pharmacology and Toxicology 20 Semester 1, Semester 2
PHAL431 2024 Special Project 20 Semester 1, Semester 2
PHAL480 2024 Research Project 40 Full Year, 1st Non standard period
PHAL490 2024 Dissertation 60 Full Year, 1st Non standard period
PHAL495 2024 Master's Thesis Preparation 40 Full Year, 1st Non standard period

More information

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Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology
School of Biomedical Sciences

Studying at Otago

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Regulations on this page are taken from the 2024 Calendar and supplementary material.

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