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HMX Fundamentals

Get an in-depth look at how drugs and other therapeutics can be used to treat and prevent diseases.

Understanding how drugs act in the body is vital for effectively treating patients.

In HMX Fundamentals Pharmacology, you’ll learn about the principles governing what the body does to a drug and in turn what a drug does to the body. Along the way you will see how this knowledge comes into play in real-world scenarios and clinical settings.

This foundational course prepares participants for more in-depth study of pharmacology, including advances in drug delivery systems and approaches.

Course Topics


  • Course introduction
  • Meet the faculty
  • High-level overview

Pharmacology and Therapeutics

  • Drug nomenclature
  • Drug classes
  • Drug modalities
  • Routes of administration

Pharmacokinetics I

  • Absorption
  • Bioavailability
  • Distribution
  • Body compartments
  • Volume of distribution

Pharmacokinetics II

  • Phase 1 and 2 reactions
  • First-pass metabolism
  • Excretion
  • First- and zero-order kinetics
  • Therapeutic window

Targets of Drug Action

  • Common drug mechanisms
  • Receptors, enzymes, ion channels, and transporters
  • New drug mechanisms
  • Protein-based, gene-based, and cell-based therapies


  • Receptor and ligand binding
  • Dose response relationships
  • Individual variation
  • Pharmacogenetics

Drug Toxicity

  • Toxic and lethal dosing
  • Mechanisms of drug toxicity
  • Drug interactions
  • Adverse drug reactions

Drug Discovery and Development

  • Drug discovery and design
  • Preclinical drug development
  • Clinical drug development

Download the Pharmacology course outline

Course Instructors

Kate McDonnell-Dowling, HMX Pharmacology Course Lead

Kate McDonnell-Dowling, PhD

Lecturer in Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology, Harvard Medical School
Associate Director of Curriculum, HMX

Why do you think it’s important for aspiring health care professionals to learn pharmacology?

In order to really understand the treatment of disease, you have to understand the basics of how a drug acts in the body. When a clinician is choosing a treatment for a patient, they are considering many pharmacological parameters such as the properties of the drug, the dose of the drug to give, how often the drug should be given, the age, weight, gender, and race of the patient, the disease itself, and the stage of disease. Eventually, without even knowing it, the clinician is processing all this information and all of these basic concepts of pharmacology in order to decide on the most efficient and beneficial treatment for the patient. To get to this point, and to be able to treat and prevent various conditions, knowing the fundamental concepts of pharmacology is vital.

What do you want students to take away from this course?

Pharmacology does require a knowledge of many other subjects such as anatomy, physiology and biochemistry, so it can be difficult to try and bring all of these together in order to understand pharmacology as a single subject. But although this is challenging this is also what makes pharmacology exciting, being able to bring all of this information together to truly understand what happens when a drug enters the body and what exactly the drug does to all the different systems within the body.

It is often thought that pharmacology is just memorizing drug names and chemical pathways, but when you dig deeper you see that this subject is built on top of a few simple concepts. We’ve put together this course to help the student learn those concepts, to show how they apply on a cellular level and then also how they apply at the patient level, to the treatment and prevention of disease. In this course, we always relate these fundamental principles back to the patient, so the student can see the bigger picture and how the basic concepts are applied in the practice of medicine.

James P. Rathmell, Harvard Medical School

James P. Rathmell, MD

Leroy D. Vandam Professor of Anesthesia, Harvard Medical School
Chair of the Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative and Pain Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital

Why do you think it’s important for aspiring health care professionals to learn pharmacology?

Regardless of where a career in health care takes you, understanding how drugs interact with the human body in health and disease is essential. Effective use of drugs to improve health and understanding how and when drugs become toxins relies on mastering the basic principles of pharmacology.

David E. Golan, Harvard Medical School

David E. Golan, MD, PhD

Professor of Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology, Harvard Medical School
Dean for Research Operations and Global Programs, Harvard Medical School
George R. Minot Professor of Medicine, Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital

Dr. Golan has provided critical insight and guidance on course content and has been an important resource in creating this HMX Pharmacology course.

View a full list of HMX pharmacology faculty.

What Learners Say

Image of Surabhi Nair

Surabhi Nair

Senior Study Manager, Invicro

“I appreciated the clinical example that was given with every topic; it was not just the theory and foundation, the course also showed how it was applied in a clinical setting.”

Ganzell Mills

Ganzell Mills

Pharmacy technician

“I really loved how it was delivered because as soon as I finish one lesson [there’s] a small quiz, and by doing that you retain a lot of the information.”

Samantha Petzer

Samantha Petzer

Pharmacy graduate

“I thought it was really an awesome way to put into context how concepts can be applied in real clinical practice.”

Meher Muhammad Zeeshan

Meher Muhammad Zeeshan

University of Pécs, Hungary

“The most helpful thing I found was the clinical scenarios. They brought us to the clinical areas and they would explain everything with different patients and especially about the mechanisms of action and drug development.”

Read more learner profiles