If you love studying chemistry at A level then Ulster’s new degree in Pharmaceutical Bioscience could be the one for you. Scroll caught up with course director and chemistry lover, Bridgeen Callan, to find out more about it.
The integrated master’s degree, MSci Pharmaceutical Bioscience, has been developed with strategic input from the pharmaceutical industry. This means that students will graduate with the right knowledge-base and skills to have an exciting career in this growing sector in Northern Ireland and beyond.
Bridgeen explains: “For anyone that loves chemistry then this degree is fantastic. Chemistry really is the foundation of it. Students have probably heard of the discipline of pharmaceutical sciences, which is the design, action, delivery and disposition of drugs. However, feedback from industry supports the fact that biopharmaceuticals are becoming increasingly important in drug design and delivery. These types of drugs are extracted from biological sources such as bacteria, fungi and algae and are a much more unique and different type of pharmaceutical ingredient.”
As we are progressing into the future of medicine, we are seeing care packages being developed with a mix of both pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical drugs to enhance treatment for patients.
“As biotechnology becomes an increasing feature in drug design and evaluation, it is inevitable that a combination of biological and pharmaceutical sciences will be attractive, if not an essential feature for future graduates. That is why we have designed this course to provide students with a solid background in both areas,” she says.
Another exciting aspect of this course is its structure. Firstly, you will graduate with a Master of Science (MSci) within four years, which would usually take five years to complete. As well as that, instead of offering a year’s placement in year three, where students would come back to university to complete their final year, this degree has moved the work-based learning element to year four. This means that if you are getting on well in your placement company and they offer you a job, you can go straight into your career without returning to university.
Bridgeen explains: “The degree has been designed this way for employability. We thought if we can incorporate quite a large work-based element into it, in this format, then it makes the transition from placement to career much easier. Students complete modules for their master’s degree in year four, however, these are delivered by distance learning to allow them to do this, no matter where they are based.”
This course requires students to have achieved grades BBB at A level, to include Chemistry and 1 other science subject, so that students have a solid background in science before starting the course.
“We will look again at the fundamentals of chemistry of functional groups. Students have to have some sort of background in it otherwise they would be overwhelmed. This is because whether you are looking at the biological or pharmaceutical type drugs, it’s the chemistry of it that is important – whether or not it’s water soluble, whether or not it can cross the cell membrane. So we need to get the fundamental chemistry taught in the degree and that’s the analytical, the physical and the organic,” she says.
With regard to drug delivery, Bridgeen states: “We also concentrate on drug formulation and structure/activity relationship. If you have an active substance, you don’t necessarily have a medicinal product. You need some way to transport that drug into the body. This can be in tablet or capsule form, through IV, it can be under the tongue, into the cheek, in the eye, ear, any number of different mechanisms in order to make that compound a drug.”
She continues: “Drugs will be formulated based on the disease state but also on their chemical properties. With some drugs stability is a problem so therefore you can’t have it in a solution because it will break down; it may be that it’s not going to be stable in acidic conditions and as the stomach is acidic you can’t give it as a regular tablet form. It may be that it suffers first pass metabolism, this means that regardless of what the drug is it will all get broken down by the liver. If this is the case, the drug cannot be given orally as it will not get to where you want it to go – so you deliver it via IV.
So it depends on what the disease state is, what the chemistry of the drug is, how quickly you need the drug (because IV will be quicker than tablet form) and also where you want it delivered to. For example, if you want to target a local area, in the case of an eye infection, you need to deliver directly into the eye. If it’s the lungs, directly into the lungs. If it’s for skin, then a topical application is required.”
As part of their degree, students will also have the opportunity to take part in a project related to their area of interest.
Bridgeen says: “Projects will span the breadth of work within the degree and will relate to areas of research within the Faculty. For example, my own research work focuses on using polymers to deliver drugs. My work concentrates on finding ways to get larger molecules across the cell membrane. We make polymer compounds which are like chameleons so they will be both water soluble and water insoluble, known as amphiphilic. So they will be able to transport the drug, like a taxi, wherever you need it to go. It really is a fascinating area of work and one that is always expanding through new discoveries.”
So if you like the sound of the MSci Pharmaceutical Bioscience degree and would like to learn more, you can contact Bridgeen directly through the online prospectus.