Duties and responsibilities vary from one position to another but, in general, pharmacologists:
- conduct basic, clinical or translational research in laboratories in universities, hospitals, research institutions or the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries
- participate in training physicians, pharmacists, dentists, future pharmacologists and other health care professionals in universities or other post-secondary institutions
- assist in the evaluation and marketing of drugs and related products for the pharmaceutical industry
- work in government agencies concerned with the detection, regulation and licensing of drugs and related products.
Their work is multidisciplinary, combining principles from biomedical and other sciences including physiology, biochemistry, molecular and cell biology, pathology, microbiology, chemistry, nutrition and psychiatry. They develop and evaluate drugs for the treatment of a wide variety of conditions (for example, bacterial infections or psychiatric, neurological or cardiovascular diseases) and may use drugs and chemicals to help investigate physiological and pathophysiological processes. Increasingly biopharmaceuticals produced by genetic engineering are being used as new therapy agents.
Pharmacologists may specialize in one or more of the following areas:
- pharmacodynamics - the study of the mechanisms of drug action. This may involve conducting experiments to investigate drug actions on biological processes (for example, gene regulation, structure and function of proteins, cell biology, tissue and organ responses to physiological and pathological stimuli) in isolated cells or organs and whole organisms (including humans).
- pharmacogenomics - the study of how genetic variations affect drug responses in the hope that drug therapy can be tailored to the genotype of each patient (an example of personalized medicine).
- pharmacokinetics and drug metabolism - the study of the time-dependent processes of absorption, distribution, biotransformation and elimination of drugs in animals and humans so appropriate dosage regimens for drugs can be developed to maximize therapeutic benefit, minimize unwanted side effects and circumvent drug resistence.
- toxicology - the study of poisons, including their mechanisms of action, as well as the detection and treatment of the adverse effects of drugs (for related information, see the Toxicologist occupational profile).
Basic pharmacologists generally study drug and chemical responses in biological systems using experimental animals and in vitro cell and tissue models.
Clinical pharmacologists usually are physicians (for more information, see the Physician occupational profile) who specialize in the study of pharmacodynamic and pharmacokinetic properties of drugs in humans.
Translational pharmacologists are those who facilitate the clinical application of new discoveries in basic pharmacological research.