20.201 | Fall 2013 | Graduate

Mechanisms of Drug Actions

Instructor Insights

Course Overview

This page focuses on the course 20.201 Mechanisms of Drug Actions as it was taught by Prof. Peter Dedon, Prof. Steven Tannenbaum, Dr. Mark Murcko, and Dr. Charles Knutson in Fall 2013.

This course addresses the scientific basis for the development of new drugs. The course is team-taught by four MIT instructors, and includes guest lectures by scientists in the pharmaceutical industry.

Topics covered in the course include mechanisms of action of drugs and drug classes, role of drug structure and drug transport proteins in uptake and distribution, kinetics of drug behavior in the human body, metabolism, drug interactions leading to toxicity, drug-receptor interactions, and the role of pharmacogenetics in drug actions.

Course Outcomes

Course Goals for Students

Learning Objectives:

  • Develop an understanding of the scientific basis for drug development, drug mechanisms, drug disposition and drug safety
  • Develop an appreciation for the role of pharmacokinetics, drug metabolism and drug interactions in the mechanisms of drug action
  • Understand the balance between environment and pharmacogenetics in the toxicity and therapeutic outcome associated with a drug
  • Understand factors that lead to success and failure in drug development

What do students get out of 20.201?

  • Framework for understanding “drugs”
  • Fundamental concepts of drug development and pharmacology
  • Learn the language of the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries
  • Application areas for modern biological engineering, chemistry, biology
  • Opportunities to meet scientists from drug companies

Possibilities for Further Study/Careers

Students will gain preparedness for graduate work in biological engineering or industry related jobs.

Curriculum Information


Permission of the instructor

Requirements Satisfied

It is a “Restricted Elective,” which means that it intended to prepare students for advanced graduate work. Undergraduate students in biological engineering are required to take two restricted electives.


Every fall semester


The students’ grades were based on the following activities:

  • 30% Exam
  • 20% Homework
  • 30% Case study project
  • 20% Reading and discussion of the assigned papers

Student Information


27 students

Breakdown by Year

A combination of advanced undergraduate (juniors and seniors) and graduate students studying biological engineering.

Typical Student Background

There are no formal prerequisites, but students should have knowledge of biochemistry and organic chemistry.

How Student Time Was Spent

During an average week, students were expected to spend 12 hours on the course, roughly divided as follows:


  • Met 2 times per week for 1.5 hours per session; 27 sessions total.


  • Met 1 time per week for 1 hour per session; 11 sessions total. Attendance is optional.
  • Recitations in the first half of the semester were used for reviewing lecture material and the homework, as well as quiz review.
  • In the second half of the semester the recitation session was used for discussing and managing student projects.

Out of Class

Course Info

Learning Resource Types
assignment_turned_in Problem Sets with Solutions
grading Exams with Solutions
notes Lecture Notes
group_work Projects with Examples
assignment Written Assignments
co_present Instructor Insights