Systems pharmacology is a new area of research which seeks to understand how drugs work at a systemic level - that of an entire organism - rather than looking at their effects on a specific cellular or molecular level out of context. This is a collaborative field which employs many different types of scientists.
Systems pharmacologists research how drugs affect the systems they're put into (people or animals). System-wide studies require expertise from many different natural science disciplines, such as molecular biology, physiology, cell biology, computational biology and biochemistry.
The purpose of the research is to develop models that can predict drug effects in a system and use those models to either develop new drugs or find new applications for existing drugs. Scientists doing research in systems pharmacology work in laboratories, clinics or on computers to obtain data for or create systemic models.
Researchers employed in private industry interface with non-scientific members of the company and do research based on the company's business concerns. Researchers working in academia have more independence regarding their research focus but must obtain outside funding from grants to pay for their research. Academic researchers are typically required to teach classes.
Systems pharmacologists working in academia have similar job duties to other researchers working in an academic setting. They write and submit grant proposals to obtain funding for research and manage and advise the students and postgraduate researchers working in their lab. They write or edit papers written by their students and submit them to academic journals for publishing and they teach classes.
They may also have administrative duties at the university or institution where they work, depending on their level of seniority. These include activities such as participating in curricular development, academic committees and hiring committees.
Systems pharmacologists employed by private industry make regular reports to the company regarding their research progress. They perform research specific to the needs and goals of their companies.
Becoming a systems pharmacologist requires a doctoral degree. This can be a Ph.D. or an M.D. Since systems pharmacology is such an integrated science, a Ph.D. degree in a variety of scientific disciplines can be applied to this career, including computational biology, computer science, applied mathematics, molecular biology, biochemistry, cell biology and others. After obtaining a Ph.D., those looking for a career in systems pharmacology can look for a postdoctoral position in a lab where that is a research interest.
Those interested in the M.D. path should look for a residency program in immunology, internal medicine, medical genetics or pathology. On completion of the residency, they may obtain certification for their specialization and look for clinical research opportunities.