Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology at VCU has a long and distinguished
history. In 1838, the department was created at the inception of
the Medical College of Virginia when Dr. Lewis Webb Chamberlayne
was appointed Chairman of the Department of Materia Medica and Therapeutics.
Upon Chamberlayne’s death
in 1854, Dr. Beverly Randolph Wellford took over the department until
1868. His son, Dr. John Spotswood Wellford, succeeded him and served
the department until 1881.
Francis W. Upshur
In 1897 the Medical College was divided into separate units of Medicine,
Dentistry and Pharmacy, which later became three schools or colleges. In
the early years of the 20th century, the department’s faculty
grew from a single professor to four when the chair, Francis W.
Upshur, hired Dr. C.C. Haskell and two adjunct faculty members.
Dr. C.C. Haskell: 1915 to 1936
In 1915, Dr. Haskell became chair of the combined departments
of Physiology and Pharmacology. He hired Dr. Harvey B. Haag
as a part-time assistant in the department while he was completing
Dr. Harvey B. Haag
: 1936 to 1955
After a year as a postdoctoral fellow at Cornell, Dr. Haag returned
to MCV as assistant professor of physiology and pharmacology. From
1936 until his semi-retirement in 1955, Dr. Haag was chair of
the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology and, from 1947 to 1950,
concurrently dean of the School of Medicine. He was the first
individual to introduce a research base in pharmacology and toxicology
In addition to his contributions to teaching and research, Dr. Haag
served on many national committees, councils and boards. He was elected
secretary and president of the American Society for Pharmacology
and Experimental Therapeutics in recognition of his many contributions
to the field. At the height of Haag’s tenure
as chair, the pharmacology faculty consisted of Drs. Haag, Larson,
Helen Ramsey, Finnegan and Pennschmidt, and Dr. R.B. Smith, who later
became dean of the School of Pharmacy and president of MCV.
It was during this period that the graduate program in pharmacology
was initiated. The first student was Jack K. Finnegan, who was enrolled
at the University of California but carried out the major portion
of his research at MCV, under the direction of Haag. He received
his degree from California in 1945 and was immediately added to the
faculty at MCV.
Upon Dr. Haag’s death his family and friends created
the Harvey B. Haag Professorship, currently occupied by Dr. Louis
Dr. Paul S. Larson: 1955 to 1972
In 1955, Dr. Paul S. Larson
became the thirteenth chair of the Department of Pharmacology.
This coincided with the completion of the McGuire Hall Annex and
the physical consolidation of the department into McGuire Hall and
its annex. Prior
to this, the department was geographically distributed in a number
of buildings, a problem to which the current department can relate.
Dr. Larson was the first chair of MCV's Department
of Pharmacology with an academic
degree (Ph.D.). All previous chairs held
professional degrees in medicine. Larson was the first Haag Professor
and a distinguished scholar whose work in toxicology and nicotine
pharmacology brought national and international recognition to the
publications provided an outstanding contribution to the knowledge
base concerning this drug. Dr. Larson was one of the founding
members of the Society of Toxicology and served as its president
from 1963-64. At
the time of his retirement, the department consisted of 11 full-time
faculty members and eight adjunct appointments, including Daniel
T. Watts (dean of the School of Basic Sciences) and Dr. Lauren Woods
(vice president for health sciences). There were three research associates
or postdoctoral fellows and six graduate students. It also was
during his tenure that the Medical College of Virginia was combined
with the Richmond Professional Institute to form VCU.
Dr. Louis Harris: 1972 to 1992
In 1972, Dr. Louis S. Harris assumed the post as chair of the Department
of Pharmacology on a part-time basis, until his final move from Chapel
Hill, N.C. in 1973. Through
his endeavors the department was able to expand the faculty and research
space. In 1983, the name of the department was changed to the
Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, to recognize the growing
strength and importance of toxicology in the program. The graduate
program was greatly expanded during this time and remains of great
interest to Dr. Harris.
Dr. George Kunos: 1992 to 2000
In 1992, Dr. George Kunos assumed the post of chair of the Department
of Pharmacology and Toxicology. It was during this period that the
department joined the School of Medicine. During his tenure the research
component of the department was strengthened with greater diversity
in the three principal areas of drug abuse, toxicology and molecular
biology. Studies in his laboratory examined the role of
endocannabinoids in neuroendocrine, metabolic and cardiovascular
regulation. Dr. Kunos is the current Intramural Director of the
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) of the
National Institutes of Health.
Dr. Billy R. Martin: 2000 to 2008
Dr. Billy Martin assumed the post of chair as the department
entered the new millennium. He played a prominent role in developing
the department’s reputation for landmark research in drugs of abuse.
For more than 30 years, his primary focus was researching the effects
of marijuana’s principal psychoactive ingredient,
delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. Dr. Martin also made significant
contributions to our understanding of the actions of nicotine. Both his
work on cannabinoids and nicotine have lead to potential therapeutic
agents currently under development.
William L. Dewey: 2008 to current
Dr. William Dewey assumed the post of chair of the department and
continues in a long line research of drugs of abuse. He is responsible
for a large body of research which have contributed significantly to
our understanding of the mechanism of action of opioids and
cannabinoids. He is the originator and
director of the longest, continuous National Institute on Drug Abuse
training grant in the USA (1976-ongoing). Thanks to a first-rate
and energetic faculty, the department has grown to its present status
— one of the finest pharmacology and toxicology departments in the