2020 at the British Pharmacological Society

Published: 12 Jan 2021

2020 was certainly an unexpected year, with so many plans and activities impacted and having to evolve throughout the year. Despite the challenges, the last year has also highlighted the vital impact pharmacology has on the world – from ensuring the safety and accuracy of clinical trials through to vaccine development. It has shown the great strength of the pharmacology community.

Across our membership we have seen pharmacologists step up to challenges around the world this year. Many did this by providing equipment, time and expertise in the response to COVID-19, by coming together and supporting one another like never before, and adapting brilliantly to online working, teaching and meetings. Thanks to the wonderful global pharmacology community, the field has continued to grow and flourish, even in challenging times. So despite the unanticipated impact of COVID-19 on the world this year, there has still been a lot to celebrate. In this blog, I wanted to share and commemorate some of our Society highlights from the last year.

January - Start of strategic partnership with ELRIG UK

In January, the Society celebrated the start of a two-year alliance with the European Laboratory Research & Innovation Group, (ELRIG UK). The alliance offers both organisations the opportunity bring together their respective scientific communities and provide access to new opportunities for scientific exchange and collaboration between industry, academia and the clinic.

Throughout the year, and under the leadership of the Joint Steering Committee, the respective teams from the Society and ELRIG met to seek out opportunities for our members. This ranged from scoping educational needs, exploring joint meetings, discussing membership and encouraging and supporting early career members around the world. There is even more planned for 2021, so watch this space!

February - AJ Clarke Studentships announced and PSA begins

In February the Society welcomed not one, but two new AJ Clarke Students! Named after Professor Alfred Joseph Clarke (a leading UK pharmacologist during the 1930s), the AJ Clarke studentships have been awarded annually since 1987 to talented students, providing them with funding and support to undertake a PhD in pharmacology.

This year the panel awarded two studentships. One went to James Farmer, who will investigate drug hypersensitivity at the university of Liverpool, and another to James Line, who will be based at the University of Nottingham and investigating cell signalling. The Society wishes them both luck as they start their research and we look forward to hearing about their progress! You can find out more about the AJ Clarke Studentship, and other awards and funding offered by the Society, on our website.

February also saw the start of the delivery of the Prescribing Safety Assessment, which - due to the pandemic - had to be rolled out remotely. Despite the challenge of adapting to remote delivery, communicating that change and making sure students felt supported, thousands of students successfully sat the PSA in 2020. This made sure that thousands of new doctors were set up to prescribe medicines safely, at a time when we need them more than ever. Later in the year, the PSA also won an Excellence in Patient Care Award from the Royal College of Physicians. This prestigious award acknowledged the significant contribution that the PSA makes to medical eductation and training.

March - New CEO and our response to COVID-19

In March there were huge changes, not least because the Society welcomed our new CEO, Rachel Lambert-Forsyth. Rachel joined the team just as the virus began to substantially affect all our lives in the UK, so she worked swiftly with Directors to put together a proactive plan to support our members and staff team.

The emergence of the global pandemic saw many of our members get involved in the efforts to tackle COVID-19. We saw the pharmacology community assemble quickly to tackle challenges created by the pandemic. Clinical members were seconded from their usual areas, and were involved in developing the dispensaries at Nightingale Hospitals, and many members donated their equipment and expertise to testing facilities. This year truly showcased the importance of the pharmacology community. In these videos that we produced for Clinical Pharmacology Week, you can hear from some of the clinical community about how clinical pharmacologists have contributed.

April - eLearning resource launch

This year, the need for online learning tools was stronger than ever, and the Society was excited to launch a new eLearning resource in April. Working with expert educators, the team produced a new online resource focussing on experimental design and the importance of experimental blinding. The new learning and teaching tool was designed to support undergraduate pharmacology and bioscience students to learn more about animal research and in vivo studies. The resource is free to use and can be accessed at any time through the BPS Assessment Platform, you simply have to register for access. You can also watch the animation used in the eLearning resource.

May - Launch of the BPS Community

As we could not meet in person, the world turned to online meetings, virtual chats and a lot of online quizzes! An area of concern for many of our members, especially those in early career stages, was networking. They wanted to know how to continue building their networks and how to make new contacts as meetings moved online. As a Society, we wanted to provide opportunities for all of our members to come together around the world, so in May we launched the online BPS Community.
The BPS Community is a dedicated online space where our members meet to explore ideas, build supportive relationships, develop collaborations and share research. This transformative global community - available online and via mobile app - allows members to find and message each other, and to use the dedicated networks to share news, opportunities and research related to specific interests. The Community is continuing to grow and thrive, with over 700 active members from over 40 countries worldwide. If you haven’t yet, why not join hundreds of pharmacologists around the world by becoming part of the Community today? Take a look and join now.

June - Cheltenham Science Festival

In June the Society joined the Cheltenham Science Festival team for another exciting first - Cheltenham Science Festival@Home. Professor Sir Munir Pirmohamed joined Vivienne Parry and Joanne Hackett for a fast-paced panel event exploring DNA testing, pharmacogenomics and the rise in popularity of at-home DNA testing kits. Over 800 people from around the world joined the DNA Testing: All In The Genes event to understand more about what our genetic information has the potential to tell us about our health, and the potential for pharmacogenomics to transform the NHS and revolutionise patient treatment. You can watch it here.

July - Links Day

Parliamentary Links day is an annual event organised by the Royal Society of Biology, with support from the BPS, that brings together scientists and MPs around important topical themes. This year’s event was digital for the first time and the theme was ‘Public trust in Science’. Due to the prominent role that science plays in dealing with COVID-19, not only has there been increased public interest in science and research, but decision makers have also recognised their importance. However, it is important to reflect and learn from this period, particularly regarding transparency and openness in decision-making. Speakers at Links Day included Sir Venki Ramakrishnan from the Royal Society, Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell from the Council for Science & Technology and Sir David Spiegelhalter from Cambridge University. They were joined by Chi Onwurah MP (Shadow Minister for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy) Greg Clark MP, (Chair of the House of Commons Science & Technology Committee) and Professor Sir Patrick Vallance, Government Chief Scientific Advisor and Clinical Pharmacologist. You can read our round up of the event discussion here.

August - Supporting educators/students returning to studies

Students across the UK received their exam results in August, so the Education and Training Committee and staff team focussed on providing support to current and perspective pharmacology students. They also supported pharmacology educators who were adapting to online teaching, delivering examinations and remotely supporting incoming students. The team brought together a series of free educational resources to help students and educators, including eLearning, online assessment content and external educational resources. To acknowledge that the university experience is different this year, undergraduate members can also now join a dedicated undergraduate Network on the online BPS Community to connect with other students and build their networks.

This will be a fantastic opportunity for ALL students (freshers, undergrads, prize winners etc) to network and support each other during these uncertain times. Ask questions, share your experiences, get to know other students at the same stage as you and those who were at your stage recently, build you network from day 1. This Network provides the exciting chance to belong to, and interact with, an engaging community of pharmacology undergraduates from across the World – an opportunity not to be missed!

Dr Steve Tucker, The Society’s Vice President of Academic Development

September - Careers pages

Pharmacology careers are diverse and wide reaching. Whether you work in academia, industry, clinical settings or beyond, pharmacology provides a grounding for a huge range of potential career paths. In September, we were excited to launch a series of new web pages and resources to help answer questions about pharmacology careers, with information tailored to different groups and career stages. You can find information for younger children (ages 7+) interested in where medicines come from, through to information for postgraduate and early career pharmacologists where you will find advice on building networks, funding opportunities and responding to peer review. Take a look at the pharmacology career web pages now!  

October - BPS LIVE!

In October the Society’s Journals – The British Journal of Pharmacology (BJP) and the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology (BJCP) – brought together an expert panel for the first in the BPS LIVE series of webinars. This was the culmination of a call for papers in both journals, seeking research on COVID-19 treatments. 'The pharmacology of drugs for COVID-19' featured specialist contributors from the journals, presenting their research on pharmacological strategies for the treatment of the disease.
To hear about upcoming BPS LIVE webinars in 2021, and wider Society activity and events, take a look at our events and meetings web page for the latest information.

November – EDI launch

As a Society, we recognise that pharmacology is for everyone, whether that be benefitting from pharmacology research or pursuing a successful career in pharmacology. This is why we are committed to championing equality, diversity and inclusion across the Society’s activity and with the global pharmacology community. To support these aims and ensure we are able to effectively identify and address inequalities, the Society launched our vision for equality, diversity and inclusion.


This Vision is a step forward for the Society in that it clearly articulates where we stand, where we are going and importantly, places our work in a broader society context. The next phase will be one of continued learning and development as we create partnerships with member and those in the wider community who share our ambitions.

Dr Anna Zecharia, the Society’s Director of Policy and Public Affairs.

As well as being a founding member of the Inequalities in Health Alliance (a coalition of organisations  calling for a cross-government strategy with the aim of reducing health inequalities) the Society is also now a proud sponsor of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Diversity and Inclusion in STEM. We welcomed the launch of their second enquiry into Equity in the STEM workforce on the 10th of November. Visit our website for more information on the Society’s commitment to remove barriers to participation and success, while welcoming equality and celebrating diversity, and being inclusive in all we do. We’d love to hear from you, so please do get in touch with the team over email or through the online Community to share your feedback and experiences.

December - Pharmacology 2020

As we came to the end of the year, we were so excited to bring the global pharmacology community together for the first ever online annual meeting! The Meetings Committee and staff team did an excellent job collating a brilliant five day programme of online activity, including cutting-edge research, networking, social activities and wellbeing content. It was also Professor Niall Hyland's final meeting as VP Meetings - and he definitely went out on a high note!

If you missed any of the activity, you can catch up with the highlights.  If you enjoyed Pharmacology 2020, why not start thinking about what you could do for Pharmacology 2021? You can submit your proposals for symposia and workshops until the 7th of January 2021!

Thank you!

We would like to say a huge thank you to all our members and contributors this year. We have loved reaching some of these important milestones with you in 2020, and look forward to even more fun and pharmacology in 2021! Don’t forget, you can get in touch with the team at any time by emailing us and, if you aren’t a member yet, take a look at our website to find out more about what membership could mean for you.


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