Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the British Pharmacological Society


  The British Pharmacological Society is the primary learned society in the United Kingdom for pharmacologists, and one of the most prominent in its discipline in the world. Pharmacology is the science of how drugs work. It is different from pharmacy, which is concerned with the provision of medicines to the public. Pharmacology is a fundamental discipline in the development of new and improved drugs to save and improve the quality of life, both human and animal, throughout the world. Pharmacologists work "from bench to bedside": in other words from basic molecular and cellular research on the mechanisms of health and disease though the pre-clinical and clinical development of new drugs for specific conditions to the monitoring of reactions to drugs which are in widespread use and the optimisation of prescribing practice in hospitals and primary care. The Society has 2,650 members in 30 countries, working in academia (research and teaching), industry, the medical profession and regulatory authorities. The Society is a charity and a company limited by guarantee. A copy of the Society's 2000 Annual Review is enclosed.


  Like the great majority of learned societies, the British Pharmacological Society does not ordinarily receive any Government funding. Its funds are self-generated, and are used on its objective of promoting and advancing pharmacology, including clinical pharmacology. The Society has a small administrative staff, but all its scientific work is done on a voluntary basis, by members who work for the good of the discipline. The funds, which are generated primarily from membership subscriptions and by the publication of two primary research journals (both peer reviewed and edited on a voluntary basis), are used to fund scientific meetings, careers information, PhD studentships and other support for the discipline (for example facilitating exchange of information about teaching and research between university departments in the UK through the Committee of Heads of Pharmacology and the Committee of Heads and Professors of Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics).

  The Government funding provided to The Royal Society is of enormous value to scientists, including pharmacologists. Many academic departments have benefited greatly from The Royal Society's Research Fellowship Scheme, which provides much needed stability of funding for talented young researchers for up to ten years, enabling them to establish their own research laboratories. The Royal Society also assists scientists in attending important overseas conferences, and in organising scientific meetings in the UK that are important for the prestige of the national science base and for attracting foreign scientists to work in the UK or collaborate with UK scientists. In this context, we regret The Royal Society's decision to stop underwriting the organisation of International Congresses in the UK. This decision, which we understand to have been the result of a reduction in real terms in The Royal Society's Grant-in-Aid, has made it almost impossible for such Congresses to be held in this country, except where the relevant national society is very large or very wealthy, as most learned societies cannot carry the financial risk involved in organising these major events. This will inevitably have a detrimental effect on the global prestige of UK science.

  The only occasion on which the British Pharmacological Society has received Government funding was when it was one of the winners of a competition for matching funding for a web site project—the Professional Institution Network Challenge (run by the Department of Trade and Industry). In 1998-99 £20,000 was received to match the same level of expenditure by the Society on developing a web site for the use of the pharmacology community. This site has since been superseded, but the funding was very valuable at the time. The BPS has also supported a number of consortia of academic institutions which have received Government funding via HEFC (the Teaching and Learning Technology Programme) for teaching initiatives such as the development of computer aided learning packages in pharmacology (pharma-CAL-ogy). The Society has used its own funds to provide the infrastructure for meetings associated with these initiatives, and to publicise them and the resulting products through its members' publications, web site and its Educational Resources Centre. In addition, the Society has taken over the initiatives when the Government funding came to an end, to ensure that the benefits continue to be made available to the pharmacology community.


  The Society does provide advice to Government, both by responding to consultations, and by raising issues it believes to be important to the future of pharmacology. In addition, members of the Society serve on Government advisory committees such as the Committee of the Safety of Medicines and the Medicines Commission. We work collaboratively with other societies, with groupings like the UK Life Sciences Committee, and with other relevant bodies such as The Royal Society, the Academy of Medical Sciences, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, the Research Defence Society and the Association of Medical Research Charities as appropriate. In recent years we have been particularly involved with providing advice to Government on the vital importance of research using animals, and how the environment for this kind of research in the UK can be prevented from deteriorating. We believe that advice from learned societies can be of great value to the Government, as it is demonstrably both expert and independent.


  Over the past few years the Society has become increasingly involved in promoting pharmacology, and science in general, to young people who are making examination subject and career choices. Like most scientific societies we provide careers literature giving information about what pharmacology is, what pharmacologists do, what the career opportunities are and how to enter a career in the field. We also attend careers fairs, and individual members of the Society go out to schools in their areas for careers days, and also to give lectures on the subject. Society members have also placed their names on the www.biology4all web site, where teachers can search for speakers in their local areas. The Society also provides careers information and general information on pharmacology on its own web site (

  The Society also has a referral service for journalists who are writing about drugs, providing them with contacts with specialists in the relevant field, to help to improve the accuracy and quality of information on drugs in the general press.

  One aspect of learned society activities that should not be underestimated is international liaison. Discipline based learned societies are part of international networks in their disciplines, and members act as ambassadors for UK science when they visit overseas countries on Society funded lecture tours. The British Pharmacological Society funds two such schemes, one for exchanges between the UK and Australia/New Zealand, and one for Society lecturers to visit India. In addition a UK-Scandinavian lecture exchange is funded through the BPS by a pharmaceutical company. The Society also provides the UK representation in three international federations of pharmacology—the International Union of Pharmacology (IUPHAR), the Federation of European Pharmacological Societies (EPHAR) and the European Association of Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics (EACPT). The Society pays the full subscription for the latter two, and 51 per cent of the subscription for IUPHAR, the remaining 49 per cent being contributed by The Royal Society. These federations are particularly important to nations in the developing world and in eastern Europe, where the number of pharmacologists is smaller and the provision of a focus for international interaction therefore even more important.

  The Society also provides support to pharmacology teachers in higher education in a number of ways. It has developed core curricula in pharmacology both for pharmacology BScs and for the pharmacology content of other relevant courses, and these are freely available on the Society's web site ( A few years ago, the Society identified a serious risk that the teaching of in vivo pharmacology to undergraduates would completely disappear, because of the increasing costs and the reduction in the number of academics with the necessary skills to teach it. With generous help from the pharmaceutical industry, the Society has established a grant scheme for new courses in in vivo pharmacology and those under threat of closure for financial reasons, and now supports courses at eight universities. In addition, together with the Physiological Society and again with generous support from the pharmaceutical industry, we have established two short vacation courses for students who are interested in the subject and who have not been able to undertake in vivo work at their own institutions. Without the Society's detailed knowledge of the position in universities and the pharmaceutical industry, and its ability to co-ordinate different parties and act as a respected broker, it is unlikely that these schemes would have been established, and in vivo pharmacology would have deteriorated further. Societies in other disciplines will no doubt have similar experiences to report.


  Scientific societies are a very important part of the infrastructure for science. They provide a focus for the enthusiasm and commitment of their members, whose voluntary effort would be most unlikely to be channelled in any other way. Most societies run entirely on self-generated funds and primarily by voluntary effort, although many (but by no means all) have small administrative staffs to ensure that their members can concentrate on scientific matters. There is scope for scientific societies to work together on issues that affect all of them, and the UK Life Sciences Committee has been very effective in bringing a group of societies which have very similar interests together in this way. However, we believe that discipline based societies are still needed, as they generate a loyalty and sense of identity in their members which is difficult to reproduce in larger, more amorphous bodies. The visibility of scientific disciplines varies over time. Pharmacology is a good example. A few years ago, molecular biology was the focus, and pharmacology received less attention. Now, however, pharmacologists, and especially in vivo pharmacologists are in demand, because of the need to find out what the compounds identified by molecular biology techniques as possible therapeutic agents actually do in the whole organism. Without a dedicated pharmacological society to promote the discipline, recruitment to and teaching and research in pharmacology could have deteriorated to the point where the country's research base could have suffered serious damage.

  We believe that learned societies in general make a vital contribution to the scientific infrastructure of the United Kingdom, at a very low cost to the Government (and in the case of most discipline based societies, at no costs at all). Scientists need means through which they can communicate their work formally; informal networking opportunities that allow them to exchange ideas with peers and to develop collaborative ventures; opportunities to train students in the techniques of formal and informal communication of their research; sources of recognition by their peers. Learned societies provide all these things through their scientific meetings, journals, travel grants, student grants, prize and award schemes etc., and at no direct cost to the tax payer. There has been some speculation about the possibility of removing charitable status from learned societies, but we would argue very strongly against this—without the tax concessions which learned societies currently receive, many would be unable to continue to make their current contributions to the nation's science infrastructure, leaving the taxpayer with a big gap to fill.

April 2002

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