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History and former Chairs

The Department was founded in 1824, one year after the McGill Medical Institution was established. Andrew F. Holmes, the first Chairman of the Department (1824-1838), was one of five professors at the Institution, which became the Faculty of Medicine of McGill University in 1832. Initially called the Discipline of Chemistry, Pharmacy and Materia Medica, the current name was adopted in 1887.

In the beginning, the Department had only one teacher! The number of academic staff grew slowly, with a marked decrease in the 1950s followed by a steady increase through the turn of the century, to become the thriving Department we are today. We currently have 20 core faculty members and 30 adjunct and associate members.   

Since the early days, research and teaching have been an obligation and a responsibility of the Department. The scope of research has broadened markedly over the years, with new recruits introducing novel techniques and expertise. In addition, affiliations with area hospitals and laboratories have offered not only unprecedented opportunities for research collaboration but also for training graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. The teaching of medical students has expanded and remains an important facet of the Department. A Minor in Pharmacology was initiated in 1996 and a full undergraduate program with Major and Honours degrees started in 2009. In more recent years, members of the Department have established the Centre for Environmental Health and Green Chemistry as well as Brain@McGill. These, in addition to the organization of scientific meetings and symposia, have increased the profile and visibility of the Department at national and international levels.

The Department has played a pioneering role at McGill for over 180 years. Our collective expertise provides a link from molecular biology to therapeutics and allows for the exploration of both genetic and environmental determinants of disease and drug action. Our comprehensive research will ultimately lead to the development of new drugs and treatment modalities for the future.


Dr. Andrew F. Holmes, M.D., LL.D. (1824-1835)

One of the four founding Professors of McGill Medical Institution, the first Dean of the Faculty of Medicine. The Holmes Gold Medal for the highest standing in medical course was instituted in his honour in 1865.


Dr. Archibald Hall, M.D., L.R.C.S.E. (1835-1842) and (1849-1854)

Professor of Midwifery and the Diseases of Women and Children and Honorary Fellow of the Obstetrical Society of london. An ardent naturalist with publications in this area of interest.


Dr. Stephen C. Sewell, M.D. (1842-1849)

Chairman of Clinical Medicine from 1850-1856. Authored several papers. His papaer "New and important therapeutic uses of Nux vomica" (1864) is the first research paper from this Department.


Dr. William Wright, M.D. (1854-1883)

Well known pharmacologist who published several papers including a detailed paper "Calabar Bean" in 1868 merely five years after the introduction of its active ingredient, physostigmine, into medicine.


Dr. James Stewart, M.D. (1883-1891)

Also Registrar of the Faculty. During his chairmanship the name "Pharmacology and Therapeutics" was adopted, for the first time in North America.


Dr. Alexander Dougall Blackader, M.D. (1891-1921)

One of Canada's foremost physicians and a pioneer in children's diseases. The first President of the Canadian Society for the Study of Diseases of Children and an early president of the American Pediatric Society. Honorary Member of the British Pediatric Association and a close friend of Sir William Osler.


Dr. Henry Gray Barbour, M.D. (1921-1924)

Previously worked at the University College London and moved to Yale University in 1924. The only pharmacologist to be acknowledged by Goodman & Gilman in the first edition of their textbook. Authored several papers and the book "Experimental Pharmacology and Toxicology" Lea & Febiger, Philadelphia, 1932.


Dr. Raymond L. Stehle, M.D. (1924-1953)

Also Honorary Medical Librarian. One of the first biochemical pharmacologists in Canada, published several papers in Journal of Biological Chemistry prior to coming to this Department iin 1921 from the University of Pennsylvania.


Dr. Kenneth I. Melville, M.D., McGill, 1926, M.Sc. (1953-1967)

A Holmes Gold Medallist and an active pharmacologist until his death in 1975. Among the first to show that adrenaline is not a sympathetic neurotransmitter. Honoured as Professor Emeritus after retirement.


Dr. Mark Nickerson, M.D. Ph.D. (1967-1975)

Internationally recognized for his discovery of non-competitive antagonistic activities of phenoxybenzamine, the concept of "spare receptors" and the deleterious effects of vasoconstrictors in haemorrhagic shock. First Canadian pharmacologist to be elected President (1975-1976) of the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics. Appointed Professor Emeritus after retirement.


Dr. John Ruedy, M.D., F.R.C.P. (C) (1975-1978)

Professor of Medicine and an excellent lecturer. Established the Clinical Pharmacology Unit at Montreal General Hospital.


Dr. Richard I. Ogilvie, M.D., F.R.C.P. (C) (1978-1983)

Also head of the Clinical Pharmacology Unit at Montreal General Hospital. A researcher in both clinical and basic pharmacology. Recognized for his work on vascular effects of loop diuretics and aminophylline dosing.


Dr. Brian Collier, Ph.D. (1983-1985)

Acting Chair


Dr. A. Claudio Cuello, M.D., D.Sc., F.R.C.P. (1985-2000)

Has carried out fundamental neuropharmacological studies of neurotransmitters. His pioneering work helped confirm the dendritic release of neurotransmitters, and helped establish the application of monoclonal antibodies to neuroscience research, the localization and function of substance P, the role of endogenous peptides and pharmacological approaches to neural repair.


Dr. Radan Čapek, M.D., Ph.D. (2000-2002)

Acting Chair


Dr. Hans H. Zingg, M.D., Ph.D. (2002-2011)

Physician-scientist and molecular biologist, recognized for fundamental studies on the molecular mechanisms of oxytocin and oxytocin receptor gene expression and mechanisms of intracellular signaling. Under his Chairmanship, the Department underwent an important expansion, established a CFI-funded high content screening core facility and initiated a Pharmacology Major/Honors program.