University of California, Irvine

Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences

About the school

Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences

The Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences offers undergraduate and graduate students unparalleled training for future careers in pharmacy, medicine and biomedical research. Our innovative, rigorous curriculum integrates concepts from biology, chemistry, chemical engineering, pharmacology and physiology. Alumni pursue exciting professional opportunities that improve our society’s health and well-being.

Pharmaceutical scientists are rapidly changing the field of drug discovery and development. Graduates of our program are well qualified to seek employment in the public and private sectors, or to pursue graduate degrees such as a Ph.D., M.D. or Pharm.D.

UCI’s location near large biomedical companies and strong reputation in chemistry and biological sciences make UCI the No. 1 California school for producing pharmacy school applicants. Nearly half of our graduates pursue a doctorate degree in pharmacy school, with many getting accepted into competitive programs at USC, UC San Francisco and UC San Diego.


B.S. in pharmaceutical sciences
UCI is the #1 feeder program to pharmacy schools nationwide, and its undergraduate degree in pharmaceutical sciences is among the top-10 pharmaceutical sciences departments in the nation. The program curriculum integrates concepts from biology, chemistry, chemical engineering, pharmacology and physiology.

Medicinal chemistry and pharmacology graduate program
The Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences offers a unique gateway graduate program in Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmacology leading to a Ph.D. in chemistry, molecular biology & biochemistry or pharmacological sciences with a concentration in either pharmaceutical sciences or pharmacology. The program is both interdisciplinary in nature, while at the same time offering an in-depth, individualized state-of-the-art practical and theoretical training in each student’s specific field of interest.

Pharmacological sciences Ph.D. program
The Departments of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Pharmacology offer an interdepartmental program leading to a PhD in Pharmacological Sciences with a Concentration in Pharmaceutical Sciences or Pharmacology.

Post-baccalaureate program in pharmaceutical sciences
The Post-baccalaureate Program in Pharmaceutical Sciences is designed for individuals who are seeking to strengthen their application to competitive graduate programs in pharmacy or other health fields, or for individuals whose undergraduate degree is not in pharmaceutical sciences and are seeking entry or advancement in a career related to pharmaceutical sciences. This program is ideal for career changers or individuals taking a gap year.

Facts & Figures

  • Among the top-10 pharmaceutical sciences departments in the nation
  • Offers the only undergraduate pharmaceutical sciences degree in California
  • No. 1 feeder program for pharmacy schools, with more UCI students entering UCSF than any other undergraduate program

Richard Chamberlin, Ph.D., Chair

Richard Chamberlin was the founding chair of the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences and has served as chair since 2007. Chamberlin, a professor at UCI since 1980, previously served as chair of the Department of Chemistry from 1996 to 2001. His research focuses on organic synthesis and chemical biology, including neurotransmitter receptors, serine-threonine phosphatases, potassium channels, HIV integrase and the tumor suppressor p53. Chamberlin was an Eli Lilly grantee (1984); received an NIH Career Development Award in neuroscience (1987-1992); received recognition in 1996 from UCI for Outstanding Contributions to Undergraduate Research; and was elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2009).

Faculty Distinctions

Claudia Benavente, Ph.D., is assistant professor and program member of Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center. She was honored with the Fulbright Scholar academic distinction from 2003-2005. The Benavente Lab focuses on pediatric solid tumors and contributing to their targeted therapeutics with research on understanding chromatin remodeling processes.

Olivier Civelli, Ph.D., professor and Eric L. & Lila D. Nelson Chair in Neuropharmacology, was honored by the NARSAD, the leading charity for research on mental health disorders, with its prestigious Distinguished Investigator Award, which provides support for experienced investigators conducting neurobiological research. He received a one-year award for the period beginning in May 2010. In 2011, he obtained a guest professorship in Nantong University, China, and joined the Chinese Academy of Sciences President’s International Fellowship Initiative for Visiting Science in 2015.

The Civelli Lab focuses on understanding the diversity of the brain function by identifying and studying novel molecules which mediate synaptic transmission. Discovery of novel neurotransmitters and neuropeptides and search for their functions.

Andrej Luptak, Ph.D., received the 1992-1996 Benjamin Franklin Scholar award. In 2010, he was named Pew Scholar. The Luptak Research Group focuses on in-vitro selection techniques to search for new catalytic RNAs in mammalian genomes.

Young Jik Kwon, Ph.D., received the Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award from the National Science Foundation in 2010 and the UCI Faculty Career Development Award in 2008. As of 2015-16, he is a Brain Pool scholar and vising professor in the field of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Korea University, Korea.

The BioTherapeutics Engineering Laboratory (BioTel) focuses on acid-degradable polymers for non-viral gene delivery, virus-mimicking core-shell nanoparticles for versatile gene therapy, bioorthogonally modified retroviruses, stimuli-responsive optical imaging contrast agent, and DNA-based cancer vaccine.

David Mobley, Ph.D., received the Hewlett-Packard (HP) Outstanding Junior Faculty Award from the American Chemical Society in 2009. He also received a NSF CAREER award as well as an R01 from the National Institutes of Health. The Mobley Lab focuses on applying computational and theoretical models of protein-ligand binding, solvation, and solubility.

Robert Spitale, Ph.D., received the NIH 2015 New Innovator Award. He is the third pharmaceutical sciences faculty to receive it since 2010. The Spitale Lab focuses on understanding how the flow of genetic information is controlled inside cells and altered to result in disease phenotypes.

Thomas Poulos, Ph.D., was named as a UCI Chancellor’s Professor in 2000. In 2004, he received the Brodie Award for Drug Metabolism American Society of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics. The Poulos Lab focuses on structure-function relationships in heme-containing enzymes and related proteins to provide information on how protein modulates the activity of a small molecule.

Jennifer Prescher, Ph.D., received the Novartis Early Career Award and the ACS Rising Star Award. The Prescher Lab focuses on crafting novel probes to “spy” on cells and decipher cellular network communications in vivo.

Paolo Sassone-Corsi, Ph.D., received the Athalie Clarke Achievement Award from the Research Associates, a community-based support group for the UCI School of Medicine. The awards acknowledge researchers who are making a notable impact on medical science. He was also awarded the 2012 Transatlantic Medal from the Society of Endocrinology.

Sheryl Tsai, Ph.D., was Pew Scholar in 2006 and received the 2007 Golden Apple Award for Teaching Excellence in Biological Sciences. He also received the 2010 Outstanding Professor award from the School of Biological Sciences (selected by graduating seniors), was named a UCI Chancellor’s Fellow in 2011, and was awarded Chancellor’s Outstanding Award of Research in 2013.

The Tsai Lab focuses on how enzymes in nature create polyketides using x-ray crystallography, molecular biology, microbiology, organic synthesis and computational biology to uncover mysteries of natural product biosynthesis.

Weian Zhao, Ph.D., received MIT’s TR35 award for the world’s top 35 innovators under the age 35, the 2015 UCI Institution for Clinical and Translational Science Young Investigator Award, the 2015 National Institute of Allergy and Infection Diseases (NIAID) R01 Award, and the Distinguished Assistant Professor Award for Research for the 2015-16 academic year.

The Zhao Lab focuses on controlling the fate of transplanted stem cells and to develop miniaturized devices for disease diagnosis and monitoring.

Mahtab Jafari, Pharm.D., received the 2008 UCI Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Fostering Undergraduate Research and was a 2007-08 recipient of the UCI Distinguished Assistant Professor Award for Teaching in 1997. She received honorable mention for Innovation in Teaching from the American Council on Pharmacy Education. In 2016, she was featured in The Wall Street Journal for her lab research on cinnamon and life longevity of Drosophila fruit flies and has kept a female fruit fly alive longer than any other scientist ever known.

The Jafari Lab Group focuses on increasing the human health span and add healthy years to life. Studies of impact of botanical extracts and dietary supplements on aging.

Stephen Hanessian, Ph.D., has received the following distinctions, among others:

  • Achaogen Research Chair (2006)
  • Isis Pharmaceuticals Research Chair (2003)
  • Queen Elisabeth Golden Jubilee Medal (2002)
  • Bernard Belleau Award in Medicinal Chemistry (CSC) (2001)
  • Officer of the Order of Canada (1998)
  • Compagnon Lavoisier – Quebec Order of Chemists (1997)
  • Killam Memorial Prize – Natural Sciences (1997)
  • Science Personality of the Year – La Presse (1996)
  • Prix Marie-Victorin – Quebec Science Prize (1996)
  • Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering (1996)
  • A.C. Cope Scholar Award – American Chemical Society (1996)
  • M.L. Wolfrom Award – American Chemical Society (1993)
  • E. Smissman Medal – University of Kansas (1992)
  • NSERCC Chair in Medicinal Chemistry (1990)
  • Fellow, Royal Society of Canada (1988)
  • Alfred Bader Award in Organic Chemistry – CSC (1988)
  • CIC Palladium Medal (1988)
  • Urgel-Archambault Award – Quebec Association for the Advancement of Science (1987)
  • Hudson Award – American Chemical Society (1982)