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News - 04 Jun 2014

An interview with David Barlow and David Mountford

We talk to David Barlow and David Mountford, authors of the newest FASTtrack title: Chemistry of Drugs.

David BarlowDavid MountfordPharmaceutical Press: Congratulations on the publication of your new book. Why did you choose to write a book on chemistry of drugs?  What qualifies you to write it? 

David Barlow and David Mountford: None of the existing FASTtrack series covered this topic and yet it is fundamental to the discipline of Pharmacy.

David Barlow: It's their detailed knowledge and understanding of the chemistry of drugs that distinguishes Pharmacists from all other health care professionals. Between us, David and I have more than 30 years' experience of teaching in this area, and we were keen to put our combined wisdom in print!

David Mountford
: Each year students struggle with the same ideas and concepts; we have therefore organised the content of the individual chapters to build logically and stepwise, providing threads between chapters to draw out ideas and develop them further.

PharmPress: What modules does this book relate to and which years will find it most helpful?

DB: The Chemistry of drugs text covers the topics of organic chemistry, elementary medicinal chemistry, pharmaceutical chemistry, and biochemistry. It will be most valuable, therefore, to first year Pharmacy students, but will also provide a handy refresher text for students in the later years of an MPharm programme, not to mention students on related courses such as Pharmaceutical Science.

PharmPress: Chemistry of drugs can be a daunting subject - what advice would you give to any students about to start studying it?

DB: With a rather perverse twist on the old adage, I think that it's a case of students not seeing the trees because they're scared of the wood!

The majority of drugs are structurally quite complex molecules, and on the printed page they can often look fearfully complicated. Students really shouldn't get phased by this complexity, however, they simply need to focus on the simpler features embedded within it: to recognise, for example, the carboxyl group that brands the drug as acidic; to spot the stereocentre that signals that its biological activity might depend on its stereochemistry, etc.

: If you understand the basic principles of chemistry, you can apply this knowledge to any situation you might encounter. There is a reliability and consistency to chemistry that doesn't require you to memorise lots of facts. If you start memorising lots of facts and structures; you're doing things wrong! It's the same ideas repeated again and again, just with different looking molecules.

PharmPress: What advice would you give to your readers about how to use your book?

: The book should not be seen as a substitute for lecture notes, nor as a cheap alternative to the more comprehensive textbooks. Rather, it should be viewed as a valuable adjunct to a student's own lecture notes, and as a resource for them to gauge their progress in learning as they swot up on the chemistry of drugs.

DM: Different examples or different ways of wording something can help with both developing understanding and testing understanding. In this way the book will certainly complement a student's lecture notes or other books they might have.

PharmPress: What advice would you give to lecturers when teaching this subject and how can this book can help them?

DB: The key is to get students at ease with drug structures so that they don't get stressed when they're shown yet another horribly complicated chemical structure, but instead just look for things within that structure that tell them what they want to know. As with so much in science, it's a case of "the more you practice, the better you get".

DM: Get the basics right first then go on to more advanced ideas and concepts. If students are struggling on the basics they will switch off once things get more complicated.

PharmPress: Pharmacy courses are focussing more and more on the application of knowledge - how will your book help students to do this?

DB: Throughout the book we have made a conscious effort to put the chemistry into context: wherever we can, illustrating the various chemical principles with reference to the reactions and properties of specific drugs; and providing multiple choice questions that not only test a student's knowledge, but also their application of that knowledge.

DM: Chemistry underpins pharmacy, and understanding these principles in the early days of the course will provide the foundation for later years where much of the emphasis will be on the application of science to practice.

PharmPress:  How will Chemistry of Drugs help students pass their exams?

DB: We'd suggest that students first revise one of the topics covered in the book (using their own lecture notes) and then test themselves on that topic by attempting the self-assessment multiple choice questions given at the end of the relevant chapter. That way, they'll get some idea as to quality of their own notes and/or revision of that topic. They can then read and digest the material presented in that chapter, hopefully improving their knowledge and understanding of the subject as they do so.

DM: No book can guarantee a student can pass their exams, what this book will do is act as a catalyst. If the student puts in the time to go through the book, develop their notes and practice the MCQs they will be in a strong position come exam time. It's better to find out what you don't know before the exam, that way you can do something about it!

"There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know." Donald Rumsfeld

PharmPress: What are the biggest challenges you faced writing this book? How did you overcome them?

: The biggest challenge was finding the time to write.

: Ditto!

PharmPress: It is great to see a new addition to the FASTtrack series - what do you think makes this series so successful?

DB: The FASTtrack texts have a consistently clear and concise format and make excellent revision aids for students at an affordable price!

DM: Well written books that are concise, clear and focussed. They avoid patronising the student or making them feel as though they should not be reading the book or questioning what they think they know.

PharmPress: And finally, what do you both enjoy doing when you are not teaching pharmacy?

: I like making music and writing. One of these bright days I'll get round to finishing one of the novels I've started to write, and maybe even get round to recording my first album.

: I like drawing/painting and cooking (well that's all chemistry is isn't it?) and travelling whenever I have the time (which isn't as much as I'd like).

FASTtrack: Chemistry of Drugs
Pre-order FASTtrack: Chemistry of Drugs now.

David Barlow is a Reader in Computational & Molecular Biophysics and Head of the Pharmaceutical Chemistry teaching section in the Pharmacy Department at King's College London. He is a Biochemistry graduate with an MSc in Bio-molecular Structural Organisation and a PhD in Crystallography.

David Mountford is a lecturer in medicinal chemistry at King's College London, having previously worked in the pharmaceutical industry as a senior medicinal chemist working on a range of indications with an unmet medical need.

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