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History of Pharmacology at King’s


Research at King’s to develop new treatments and understand their mechanisms of action has a long and productive history. The Pharmacology BSc was established at King's in 1957, run by the Department originally led by Professor George Brownlee. He, along with two other professors of pharmacology - Arnold Beckett and Sir James Black, a Nobel laureate – have paved the way for the development of modern analytical pharmacology. George Brownlee’s legacy lives on in the form of three prizes awarded to our top and most improved students.



Arnold Beckett (1920 - 2010)

Anti-doping pharmacist

Arnold Beckett developed new methods for the study of drugs in the small concentrations present in body fluids during his 27 years as head of the School of Pharmacy at Chelsea College of Science and Technology (later merged with King’s College London). By the time drug abuse in sport became a recognised problem – following the death of a cyclist due to amphetamine use during the 1967 Tour de France –  Beckett and his team had developed the analytical tools needed to test athletes.

Beckett worked with Professor Raymond Brooks at St Thomas’ Hospital, who established a test for anabolic steroids which was later adopted across the world. In 1978, Beckett’s laboratory became the first one established independently of a city staging the Olympic Games to test for drugs in sport. Its successor, King’s College London’s Drug Control Centre, will operate a World Anti-Doping Agency accredited satellite laboratory during the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Professor Beckett was made a member of the Olympic Order in 1980 for his contributions to the regulation of drug use in international sports and was appointed OBE in 1983.

Arnold Beckett


Sir James Black (1924 - 2010)

Nobel-winning pharmacologist who developed beta blockers and anti-ulcer drugs

'In intellectual terms the last five years at King's have been the most productive in my life. Surrounded by talented researchers and PhD students, I feel I have found my niche at last.’ 
(Sir James Black, from the speech given on the acceptance of his Nobel Prize)

Sir James Black was appointed as professor of pharmacology at King’s in 1984 and retained connections with the college for the rest of his life. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1988 for the development of two major families of drugs: beta blockers for the treatment of coronary heart disease, high blood pressure and heart failure, and anti-ulcer histamine receptor blocking drugs.

The great innovation in James Black’s approach was that he used his understanding of how cells communicate with one another to work out how to design new drugs.

The James Black Centre on King’s Denmark Hill Campus, which opened in 2007, houses groups working on molecular haematology, neurobiology, translational stem research and transplantation. It provides a highly multi-disciplinary environment for 180 scientists with excellent core facilities including genomics, proteomics, mulitphoton confocal microscopy and a 7 tesla MRI scanner.

Sir James Black