Master of Science in Pharmacology

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Overview & Curriculum

The Master of Science in Pharmacology (MSP) is a two-year, 100% online degree program geared toward teaching students:

  • The fundamental principles of pharmacology
  • Mechanisms of drug action
  • Current topics in drug discovery
  • Strategies, techniques and critical thinking skills needed for drug research

The program is designed for working professionals who are interested in advancing in their careers or enhancing their competitiveness for admission to other degree programs.

The online format of the MSP program allows for greater flexibility and ease of attendance regardless of geographical location. Take the UCI Self-Assessment for Online Learning to see if this format is right for you.

Courses for Master of Science in Pharmacology (MSP) Program

The MSP degree program requires 39 units of coursework, including 3 units of a capstone project.  All courses in the program are required.

Online Courses

PHARM 271   Principles of Pharmacology (3 units). Online.
Principles of pharmacology: pharmacodynamics, pharmacokinetics, pharmacogenetics, drug interactions and toxicity.

PHARM 272   Receptors and Drug Targets (3 units). Online.
Molecular basis of drug-receptor interaction. Receptor properties including gene and protein structure, signaling mechanisms, trafficking and physiological effects: G-protein linked receptors, ligand-gated ion channels, receptor tyrosine kinases, nuclear receptors, and ligand regulated transcription factors.

PHARM 274   Research Techniques in Pharmacology (3 units). Online.
Experimental techniques and model systems used in pharmacological research. Receptor analysis, bioassay, molecular biology, in vitro pharmacology, biochemical pharmacology, imaging, electrophysiology, in vivo pharmacology, disease models.

PHARM 276   Experimental Design and Data Analysis (3 units). Online.
Experimental design, data analysis and interpretation. Population and sample statistics, hypothesis testing, analysis of variance, nonparametric statistics, and power calculations.

PHARM 277   Ethics in Scientific Research (3 units). Online.
Ethical conduct in research including data handling, authorship, conflict of interest, animal rights and handling of misconduct.

PHARM 278   Concepts in Drug Discovery (3 units).
Online. Critical steps involved in discovery and optimization of a new drug.  Target selection, relationship of molecular structure to pharmacological activities, screening methods, strategies to identify lead compounds, and preclinical characterization necessary for development of the drug for clinical trials.

PHARM 279   Special Topics in Pharmacology (3 units). Online.
Topics of current interest in pharmacology; discussion of recent research publications.

PHARM 280   Masters Project in Pharmacology (3 units). Online.
Capstone research paper on topic of interest in pharmacology.

PHARM 281   Neuropharmacology (3 units). Online.
Autonomic and central nervous system pharmacology, including major drug classes and therapeutic uses.  Mechanisms underlying chemical signaling processes in the brain and peripheral nervous system, including neurotransmitter synthesis, inactivation and receptor action.

PHARM 282 Behavioral Pharmacology (3 units). Online.
Pharmacology of integrative function and behavior.  Drug treatment of pain. Mechanisms of reward, addiction and drugs of abuse.

PHARM 283  Cardiovascular Pharmacology (3 units). Online.
Basic understanding of drugs used in the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease.  Mechanisms of action, clinical and adverse effects.

PHARM 284  Endocrine, Respiratory and Gastrointestinal Pharmacology (3 units). Online.
Basic understanding of drugs used in endocrine, respiratory and gastrointestinal conditions, including hormone replacement, contraceptives, and drugs for diabetes, asthma, obesity, ulcer and gastric reflux.  Mechanisms of drug action, clinical and adverse effects.  

MSP Faculty

The UCI Pharmacology faculty members teaching in the Master of Science in Pharmacology degree program share a strong foundation in the fields of pharmacology and drug discovery.  They are renowned nationally and internationally for their scientific research.  A number of faculty members have worked in and/or actually founded pharmaceutical companies, so they have industry as well as academic backgrounds.   Many have close ties with industry, both locally and internationally. These relationships are a key asset to the MSP program and its students. In addition, a number of faculty hold patents relative to drug discoveries they have made.

Olivier Civelli, Ph.D.

Chair and Professor of Pharmacology; Eric L. and Lila D. Nelson Endowed Chair in Neuropharmacology

Dr. Civelli is currently serving as MSP Program Director and has responsibility for oversight and general administration of the program. Dr. Civelli is a recognized leader in the field of neuropsychopharmacology. He was the first to clone the D2 dopamine receptor and discovered the diversity of the dopamine receptors, in particular the D4 receptor. He spearheaded reverse pharmacology and used it to discover the first new neuropeptide identified by this approach, nociceptin/orphanin FQ and later neuropeptide S. He discovered the receptors for melanin concentrating hormone and for urotensin II. His primary interest is the study of neuropsychiatric disorders, in particular schizophrenia. Dr. Civelli is well versed in the area of pharmaceutical drug discovery. Earlier in his career, he was a vice president at F. Hoffmann-La Roche, Basel and was head of one of the company’s preclinical research departments. He also started a biotechnology company. Dr. Civelli has authored more than 200 manuscripts and holds 30 patents.

Geoffrey Abott, Ph.D.

Vice Chair and Professor of Pharmacology

Research in Dr. Abbott’s lab is focused on elucidating the molecular basis for ion channel and transporter physiology and pathophysiology, and his work is currently funded by the US National Institutes of Health (NIGMS, NIDCD and NIDDK).  His approach requires a combination of techniques including mouse and human genetics, electrophysiology, pharmacology, and state-of-the-art imaging modalities.  Dr. Abbott serves on the editorial board of three internationally-recognized journals, and before joining UC Irvine, he trained at University of London and Yale School of Medicine, and was a tenured professor at Weill-Cornell Medical School.

Amal Alachkar, Ph.D.

Adjunct Associate Professor of Pharmacology​

Dr. Alachkar was trained as a pharmacist and received her Ph.D. in Neuroscience from the University of Manchester, UK.  She has extensive background in molecular and behavioral neuroscience and neuropharmacology.  Dr. Alachkar established the first neuroscience laboratory in Syria in the School of Pharmacy at the University of Aleppo before moving to the US.  Her research focuses on associations between genetic and environmental factors and mental disorders such as schizophrenia, autism and depression. Dr. Alachkar is investigating potential therapies using an epigenetic model of schizophrenia that involves methionine exposure during gestation. She has discovered that melanin concentrating hormone receptor knock out (MCHR1 KO) female mice display maternal deficits and is studying this model to develop the potential therapeutic use of MCHR1 antagonists for the treatment of postpartum depression in humans.

James D. Belluzzi, Ph.D.

Adjunct Professor of Pharmacology

Dr. Belluzzi’s research is focused on drugs of abuse (cocaine, nicotine) and brain mechanisms of reward and reinforcement. He currently studies age-related changes in the reinforcing effects of cocaine and whether nicotine during adolescence alters cocaine’s reinforcing actions. Dr. Belluzzi utilizes animal behavioral models such as drug self-administration and conditioned place preference, and he has extensive experience with the design, performance, and analysis of behavioral research and statistical analysis.  Dr. Belluzzi has 63 peer reviewed publications that include the first demonstration of rewarding effects of enkephalin, the first demonstration of dopamine D1 agonist self-administration, the first study to directly compare the reward value of cocaine and nicotine, and the first demonstration of the enhancement of nicotine self-administration by a tobacco smoke component, acetaldehyde.  Dr. Belluzzi has prior experience in the pharmaceutical industry, having served as Head of Basic Research Section in the Department of Psychopharmacology at Wyeth Laboratories (Radnor, PA) and as a Senior Research Scientist at Whitby Research (Irvine, CA).

Frederick J. Ehlert, Ph.D.

Professor of Pharmacology

Dr. Ehlert is internationally known for his development of computational methods to analyze drug interactions with G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs).  He recently published the book Affinity and Efficacy, the Components of Drug-Receptor Interaction. Dr. Ehlert’s analytical methods provide a means for validating conclusions drawn from docking drug molecules onto active and inactive receptor structures in silico. His approach is useful for quantifying agonist signaling through different pathways (agonist bias) and allosteric modulation of pathway selectivity. Finally, his analysis provides a more useful interpretation of structure-activity relationships.  Dr. Ehlert’s lab analyzes models of drug-receptor interactions using a variety of techniques: computer simulation of receptor events, cell culture, second messenger assays, and contractile measurements on isolated smooth muscle from wild type and receptor knockout mice. In particular, Dr. Ehlert has focused on muscarinic receptors and the development of novel subtype-selective irreversible antagonists.  Dr. Ehlert received his Ph.D. in Pharmacology from UC Irvine. He serves on the editorial board of 3 major international journals and his industry ties include work with Pfizer, Inc.

Kelvin W. Gee, Ph.D.

Professor of Pharmacology

Dr. Gee is a neuropharmacologist with extensive experience in drug discovery and development. Dr. Gee received his Ph.D. in Pharmacology and Toxicology from UC Davis. The mission of his lab is to identify and characterize novel allosteric modulatory sites on ligand-gated ion channels, design and synthesize ligands for these sites and evaluate their potential as novel therapeutic agents useful in the treatment of human diseases. He is characterizing novel allosteric modulatory sites on the GABAA receptor complex and the alpha7 nicotinic receptor and studying the behavioral consequences of modulatory site activation/antagonism. Dr. Gee’s pioneering work on the discovery and development of neuroactive steroids and other small molecules as therapeutic agents has resulted in 16 patents and led to his founding of several biopharmaceutical companies to develop his discoveries: CoCensys Inc., Kadmus Pharmaceuticals Inc., and Xytis, Inc. Dr. Gee also served on the scientific advisory boards of several drug development companies, such as Gemin X Biotechnologies Inc. and Anvyl LLC.

Naoto Hoshi, MD., Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Pharmacology

Dr. Hoshi received his M.D. and Ph.D. from Kanazawa University School of Medicine, Japan.  The Hoshi laboratory studies the function and regulation of the M-channel as a model system for understanding how low threshold voltage-gated channels contribute to higher brain functions such as learning and memory and also pathological states such as epilepsy. M-channel modulators have therapeutic potential for controlling pathological neuronal activity.  Dr. Hoshi’s detailed analyses of the M-channel complex revealed that the KCNQ2 channel tethers several kinases and protein phosphatases as well as its direct binding to GPCRs. This receptor-ion channel complex is a fundamental regulatory mechanism, which is also important for the heart pacemaker channel, HCN4 channel. 
 Dr. Hoshi recently discovered that the widely used anticonvulsant valproic acid acts by protecting the M-current from neuromodulators. Dr. Hoshi’s studies utilize molecular biology, electrophysiology, live cell FRET imaging and behavioral neuroscience.

Diana N. Krause, Ph.D.

Adjunct Professor of Pharmacology

Dr. Krause is recognized for her expertise on hormonal regulation of the cerebral circulation, in particular, the influence of estrogen and other sex steroid hormones on vasculature function and disorders such as stroke and headache.  Her research group has made pioneering discoveries that give insight into why cerebrovascular physiology and pathology differ between males and females and over the course of the female lifespan, e.g., pre- vs. postmenopause.  Dr. Krause is currently collaborating with investigators at the University of Lund, Sweden, on a promising novel treatment for stroke. She earned her Ph.D. in neuroscience from UCLA and has previous industry experience as Director of Pharmacology for Nelson Research (Irvine, CA).  She currently is a consultant for the biotech company Edvince AB.

Frances Leslie, Ph.D.

Professor of Pharmacology

Frances Leslie, Ph.D., is a neuropharmacologist who is primarily interested in the effects of drugs of abuse on developing brain. Her research team uses an integrative range of experimental approaches, from molecular biology to animal behavior, to determine whether abused drugs have unique effects at various stages of brain development. The abused drugs currently under investigation include tobacco, cocaine and amphetamine. Although all stages of brain development are studied, two periods are of particular interest: the prenatal period and adolescence.

Qun-Yong Zhou, Ph.D.

Professor of Pharmacology

Dr. Zhou has pioneered the research of prokineticins, a family of novel regulatory peptides that regulate diverse biological processes including gastrointestinal motility, pain perception, tumorigenesis and circadian rhythm. His group has developed potent and selective small molecule prokineticin antagonists with potential as therapeutic drugs for significant human disorders such as cancer, cerebral ischemic stroke, and mood disorders. Multiple approaches are used to elucidate the regulation of prokineticin ligands and receptors, including molecular biology, genetics, electrophysiology, and behavioral pharmacology.  Dr. Zhou received a Pharmacy degree from Shanghai Medical University and a Ph.D. in Molecular Biology from Oregon Health Sciences University.  He is the scientific founder of the biotech firm Kinexis and collaborates with Merck & Co.

Admission Requirements and Application Process

The online MSP program is targeted to working professionals in the pharmaceutical industry and related fields. The program is open to any non-traditional student who can benefit from the flexibility and convenience of online, distance learning, including California, U.S. and international students.  Applicants will have a B.S. degree and may be older than a typical student who moves directly from undergraduate to graduate study.

Admission Criteria

  • A bachelor’s degree from a recognized academic institution
  • A minimum cumulative undergraduate GPA of 3.0
  • Official transcript(s)
  • A minimum of two years of undergraduate coursework related to biology and/or chemistry
  • A minimum of one year of laboratory experience (e.g., employment, research, coursework)
  • Personal statement addressing motivation and suitability for the program
  • Three letters of recommendation
  • Foreign student applicants must demonstrate English proficiency:
    • TOEFL (minimum score of 80)
    • IELTS (minimum overall score of 7)

Note: the GRE exam is not required.

Application Process

Students are admitted to the MSP program on an annual basis for the Fall quarter. In depth information on the UCI application process can be found at

Application deadline for admission for Fall, 2020: March 1, 2020 (priority deadline), June 15, 2020 (final deadline)

Step 1

Complete and submit your Application for Admission online. The application is found on the Graduate Division/UC Irvine web page Online application for graduate admissions. Under the degree section, select the Master of Science in Pharmacology option.

Note that the Statement of Purpose is part of the online application. This statement should demonstrate your writing ability and clarity of thought. It should include a personal history describing your professional and academic achievements, and in particular, your laboratory and research experience. You should provide a statement of purpose, detailing current goals, and specifically how and why the MSP program will help you achieve them. You also should indicate your understanding of the challenges of online learning and articulate your readiness to benefit from this type of instructional modality.

If you have any technical difficulties submitting your application, email or call (949) 824-6363.

Step 2

Pay fees. Once you have finalized your application in full, press the submit button which then prompts you to pay the appropriate application fee using Visa or MasterCard.

Nonrefundable application fees:
US citizens and lawful US permanent residents: $120
All other applicants, including international students: $140 

Step 3

Provide Letter of Recommendation and Waiver of Access forms (available via the online application system) to the three people you have identified who can evaluate your academic and/or professional achievement, describe your strengths and weaknesses, and comment on our character, integrity and motivation. Letters that speak to your ability to perform in a post-graduate academic program are especially useful. All letters must be submitted online.

Step 4

Upload all transcripts to your application. Ensure the scanned copies are legible before uploading. Do not mail official transcripts to the department. If you are admitted, you will be asked to mail official transcripts to the Graduate Division at that time.

Step 5

International students must submit the results of their TOEFL exam. Scores will be sent directly to UC Irvine by the testing agency. Please choose Institution Code 4859.

NOTE: All supplemental materials must arrive before or on the application deadline in order for the application to be deemed complete and reviewed. You must supply a valid e-mail address that you will maintain at least 8 months after you apply. Students will be notified via this email address when they have been accepted into the program.

Program Fees

  • It is projected that your annual fees will be approximately $21,500 per year* (for two years). UC Irvine bills for fees each quarter.
  • This is a different fee structure than other UC programs due to the unique nature of the program and its associated technology costs
  • Currently, there is no additional charge for out-of-state or international students
  • You are expected to take and complete two online courses each quarter during Fall (September-December), Winter (January-March), and Spring (March-June).

* Program fees subject to change.

NOTE:  This program is a self-supporting degree program and not supported with state funds, thus certain fee waivers traditionally accepted by the University of California may, or may not, be accepted.  For example, the MSP program is not subject to the state law regarding Cal/Vet tuition/fee exemptions, and students enrolling in this program cannot use Cal/Vet tuition/fee exemptions.

Financial Assistance

Master’s students are typically self-supported. Because the MSP program is a fully accredited graduate degree, enrolled students from the U.S. (citizens and eligible non-citizens) are eligible to apply for specific federal loan programs:

  • Federal Direct Unsubsidized Stafford Loan
  • Federal Direct Graduate PLUS Loan

To be considered, all domestic (e.g., non-foreign) graduate students must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Please note that foreign students are not eligible for financial aid. Therefore, foreign students should not complete a FAFSA. For further information, please check the UCI Financial Aid office website.

Career Paths

A number of opportunities for Masters level pharmacologists exist in the pharmaceutical industry, biotechnology companies, government agencies, research laboratories and academic programs.

The knowledge acquired in the MSP program would also benefit those seeking employment or advancement in teaching, technical and scientific writing, patenting, or sales and marketing. If a continued educational pathway is desired, coursework in the MSP program would be directly relatable and beneficial to students looking to apply to a Pharm.D., Ph.D., M.D. or other advanced degree program.

Pharmacology offers unique opportunities to contribute to the knowledge, well-being, and survival of mankind. By providing advanced training in pharmacology, the MSP program prepares students for positions of leadership and responsibility in academic, industrial, and government settings. The MSP program uniquely meets the educational needs of working professionals in the pharmaceutical and related industries.

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