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Guide to PHARMACOLOGY and the Concise Guide to PHARMACOLOGY 2017-18

Published: 19 Jan 2018
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By Stephen Alexander, Adam Pawson

There are many ways in which the British Pharmacological Society promotes pharmacology. Some of the more visible routes include the organisation of scientific meetings, as well as education and policy work. Alongside the publication of its three peer-reviewed journals, the Society also supports the IUPHAR/ British Pharmacological Society Guide to PHARMACOLOGY database (GtoPdb), a free online resource for pharmacologists and scientists in related disciplines. Here, Steve Alexander and Adam Pawson reflect on the Concise Guide to PHARMACOLOGY (CGtP) 2017/18 and the database that underpins it.

The IUPHAR/British Pharmacologcal Society Guide to PHARMACOLOGY database

The IUPHAR/British Pharmacological Society GtoPdb is an open access, expert-curated, online database of drug targets and their ligands. It provides focused overviews and detailed introductions, key references and pharmacological characterisation of  more than 2,800 (mostly human) targets, along with quantitative pharmacological, chemical, genetic, functional and pathophysiological data on all the known biological targets of approved and experimental drugs. The database also has more than 9,000 distinct ligand molecules, including approved drugs, investigational small molecules, and endogenous and synthetic peptides, and antibodies.

The content and data in the GtoPdb are largely derived from (and linked to) primary literature, utilising an international network of 500+ researchers arranged into more than 90 subcommittees of the Nomenclature Committee of IUPHAR. Frequent interactions between these subcommittees and the team of expert curators and developers, based at the University of Edinburgh (led by Professor Jamie A. Davies), ensures that the information presented is up to date. All of the data presented in the GtoPdb is also available for download or in machine readable format to allow consumers working with other databases or resources ready access to the content.

Funding from the Society and the Wellcome Trust allows free availability of this resource. The Wellcome Trust have also funded a recent expansion of the GtoPdb into the arena of immunopharmacology. Not only have subcommittees been assembled to provide data on the targets and ligands of immunopharmacological relevance, but the scope of the online database has also been widened to include immunological cell types, processes and diseases. The GtoPdb also provides an integrated educational resource that includes access to high quality training in the principles of basic and clinical pharmacology and techniques.

The Concise Guide to PHARMACOLOGY 2017/18

The Society’s flagship CGtP publication (formally GRAC) is produced as a collaboration between the British Journal of Pharmacology and NCIUPHAR. The GtoPdb provides an expanded substrate for the Concise Guide, which is a permanent, citable archive of the online version of the GtoPdb target summary pages. Updated and published every two years, the latest edition of the CGtP was published as an Open Access resource on 21 October 2017. These publications present tabular extracts from the online GtoPdb, allowing for ready comparison of selective pharmacological tools (agonists, antagonists, modulators, channel blockers, substrates, inhibitors and labelled ligands), together with brief overviews and suggestions for further reading.

The CGtP 2017/18 is not actually that concise; it is made up of over 440 pages and describes 1,700 human drug targets. More than 3,500 ligands are identified, including over 2,400 synthetic organic molecules and over 50 antibodies. Over 4,000 interactions between ligands and targets are described quantitatively, allowing assessment of the potency or affinity of these interactions.

The 2017/18 edition of the Concise Guide was a truly international endeavour, put together with help from over 150 collaborators, representing industry and academia from 22 countries across four continents.

The Concise Guide provides an evidence base for the data presented, with over 4,650 references cited and listed. These are linked to PubMed or Patents (where appropriate) in order that the reader can obtain further information from the source with a single click. It indicates, where available, selective pharmacological tools to enable researchers to identify a particular target in experimental investigations. The emphasis is not only on selectivity, but also on availability (either commercially or by donation) to ensure researchers have access to these tools. The impact of the Concise Guide is evidenced by its high citation rate – the nine publications from the 2015/16 edition have accrued over 1,200 citations since its publication in December 2015.

The broad coverage of the Concise Guide means its relevance also extends to scientists who would not normally think of themselves as pharmacologists; including physiologists, biochemists and cell biologists. For example, the Concise Guide has three sections on ion channels, which will be of interest to physiologists since, in many cases, molecular data are correlated with ion conductance at the cellular and channel level. Additionally, the large section on enzymes, with a major focus on kinases, peptidase and proteinases will be relevant for biochemists and cell biologists wishing to identify whether selective tools for their enzyme of interest are available.

For those who teach pharmacology, the Concise Guide provides a handy starting point for researching specific pharmacological targets (receptors, ion channels, transporters, enzymes and other targets) which may be identified in lectures and practical classes. The further reading highlighted for these targets will also allow greater depth of insight from authoritative sources.

How to make the most of the Concise Guide to PHARMACOLOGY 2017/2018

For those new to a research topic, the Concise Guide allows a ready comparison of individual pharmacological targets within a family. Each family is introduced with an overview, which includes the nomenclature status of the family and general data, for example on the endogenous ligands for the particular receptor family. Each table of targets has an organisation which is standardised for each class of target (G protein-coupled receptors, enzymes, transporters, etc.). Each table includes clickable links to HUGOGeneNomenclature Committee (HGNC) and UniProt - free online databases of gene and protein information.

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About the author

Adam Pawson is Senior Database Curator for the IUPHAR/BPS GtoPdb at the University of Edinburgh. After receiving his PhD in Chemical Pathology at the University of Cape Town, he spent twelve years as a PostDoctoral Fellow and Senior Investigator Scientist at the MRC Human Reproductive Sciences Unit in Edinburgh, focussing his research on GPCR structure/function, signal transduction and intracellular trafficking. Adam now oversees the curation and annotation of data for the GtoPdb.

Steve Alexander works on cannabis-related agents (and other stuff) in the School of Life Sciences at the University of Nottingham. He has worked on nomenclature guides for twenty years and been an Editor and Senior Editor of the British Journal of Pharmacology since 2004. Steve is the current chair of the International Union of Basic and Clinical Pharmacology Committee on Receptor Nomenclature and Drug Classification (NC-IUPHAR) and Senior Editor for the Concise Guide to PHARMACOLOGY.