|MadSci Network: Chemistry|
One caveat first. I assume you really mean pharmacology, not pharmacy. They are quite different things. Pharmacy is (usually) simply dispensing medicines, you local pharmacist at the drug store. Pharmacology is the study of how drugs and hormones and other things work, how do they influence cellular or tissue or organismal function. If you mean pharmacy, you need a little chemistry to understand what it is you'll dispense, what's incompatible or not. But if you're a pharmacologist, you need to know a lot of chemistry (see below). Now before all the pharmacists come after me, I should say that there is a professional degree known as a "Doctorate in Pharmacology" or Pharm.D. (just like M.D. means medical doctor). These folks know a lot more pharmacology that doctors or pretty much anyone else. If you're a physician, get to know your local Pharm.D. at the hospital (and hopefully your hospital will have one). A Pharm.D.'s advice is invaluable in preventing drug interactions, adverse effects, determining the proper dosage, considering alternative drugs fo the same disease, etc. About 100,000 people die each year from adverse drug reactions in hospitals. If you're a physician, get to know your Pharm.D. You'll greatly reduce the chances that you will add to that statistic. Chemistry is the heart of pharmacology. Pharmacology is the study of how "drugs" (which can be darn near anything) interact with various hormone receptors or other pathways in an organism. The "drugs" are almost always small molecules, that is, they are "chemicals". The trick in developing and using drugs is to get "selective" drugs, drugs that interact with one or only a few if the receptors/pathways in the body. Virtually all drugs are "dirty", they interact in multiple places and cause different effects, some of which you'll want (therapeutic effects) and some not (toxic or adverse effects). Where chemistry comes in is at all levels. If you're a chemist or biologist in a drug company, you need to know the chemical structure of your potential drug. That way, you can make lots of minor changes in that chemical to see if you can make it more selective. A physician doesn't do that, but a physician needs to know enough chemistry to understand the biology. Chemistry underlies biology in the sense that it is individual chemicals (some of them small like most hormones, amino acids, sugars, etc. and some of them large (proteins, DNA, etc.) that interact to keep a cell alive, give it structure, produce energy, generate movement, even eventually generate thought. If I am doing basic research in some aspect of biology/pharmacology, I really need to know the chemicals I am dealing with, for major and minor reasons. For example, I need to understand pH and acids and bases to understand why pH is important for protein stability and for metabolism, why alterations in blood or tissue or cellular pH are not exactly good for you. I need to understand acid-base chemistry to understand that the kidney will eliminate some drugs very well and not others because of their acid-base characteristics and further that I can help the kidney eliminate some drugs by giving another drug that changes the pH of the urine. I need to understand at least some small amount of chemistry to understand why and to predict that if I give my child "Ventolin" for lung congestion or croup that it will help them breath. It will also make their heart rate and blood pressure go up. It works in the heart by a different pathway than in the lungs. If you know a bit of chemistry, that will make sense to you. If you don't, it's just memorization with no real understanding. If you don't understand the basics as a physician, you'll make mistakes. From another perspective, I've hired many postdocs and technicians and had many graduate students in my laboratory over the last 25 years. I've discovered that they can readily learn biology even if they haven't had much before IF they've had chemistry. But if all they've ever taken is biology and they never took or blew off their chemistry, it's too late. I've never been able to teach them the necessary chemistry for their work. It's not that I do "chemistry" in my lab, but they make much poorer techs or students if they cannot use at least a little bit of chemistry.
Try the links in the MadSci Library for more information on Chemistry.