From bugs to drugs: pharmacy community open day extravaganza

Issue: Water

17 November 2014 article

MT Nov 2014 bugs to drugs

There is much public misconception and misunderstanding about the drug development process. In order to address some of these issues, the Manchester Pharmacy School hosted a family-orientated Community Open Day one wet Saturday in May.

Set against a public health theme, visitors were invited to journey through the stages of the drug development process to find a cure for a new and highly infectious (and of course fictitious!) micro-organism (Bacillus zombieitis) that turns human beings into zombies if infected. The organism ‘spread’ through contact with infected surfaces and by inhalation, and was extremely resistant to traditional antibiotics. The overall aim therefore was to identify the cause of zombieitis and to identify, develop, optimise, test, trial and market a new, effective antibiotic.

The activities

There was a strong microbiological theme to the event. The acquisition of micro-organisms by walking the mat of death (excellent use of fluorescent gel on a yoga mat) was used to explain the difference between resident, beneficial bacteria and transient, possibly harmful micro-organisms and the importance of good hygiene practice. There was opportunity to look down light microscopes at micro-organisms, including Staphylococcus aureusEscherichia coli and B. zombieitis. A game of skittles was used to represent antibiotic resistance, with each skittle being a different bacterial species and the ball an antibiotic. Those that were knocked down when a ball (antibiotic) was rolled were susceptible while those that remained standing were resistant. Discretely placed velcro helped B. zombieitis (and also MRSA) remain resistant! Taking a ball from the participant represented stopping the course of antibiotics too soon. Photographs of antibiotic disc diffusion plates were on display to illustrate how preliminary antimicrobial properties might be assessed. Comparisons in activity for a range of antibiotics, including the ‘new’ product were shown against different bacteria, including B. zombieitis.

University staff and students and senior staff from Gilead Sciences were present to assist with activities and answer queries. Information about higher education and pharmacy as a career was available, as well as a Pharmacy Art Corner for all budding artists wishing to exhibit their interpretations of the drug development process. Prizes, including the book The Secret World of Microbes (kindly donated by the Society) were available for the best artwork and successful completion of a super quiz.

Success or not?

Feedback from completed questionnaires was overwhelmingly positive, giving the whole event an average Likert scale rating of 3.7 out of a possible 4, with 98% stating ‘I liked it a lot’ (74%) or ‘I liked it’ (24%). Respondents said the event was ‘fun’, ‘interesting’, ‘educational’ and ‘inspiring’.

Contributions of artwork and theatre from local and neighbouring communities and schools helped to make this an event by the community, for the community. On the basis of feedback questionnaire returns, approximately two-thirds of visitors had not previously been associated with the University of Manchester.

Final thoughts

Overall, the Open Day was deemed an overwhelming success, not only in terms of visitors leaving with an enlightened and positive view of pharmaceutical research but also in terms of community engagement. We hope that we have introduced pharmacy, research and indeed the benefits of higher education to a much wider audience than through conventional literature-based approaches. Moreover, events such as this have the potential to raise aspirations by de-mystifying academia.


Thanks to the Wellcome Trust for financial support [097820/Z/11/B] and the Microbiology Society for donating prizes, to Mother Hen for role-play activity, Ms J. Sarwar and selected Year 9 pupils from Chorlton High School for zombie actors and to the staff and students at Manchester Pharmacy School that contributed to the event.


Manchester Pharmacy School, University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PT, UK
[email protected]

Image: Staff assisting with activities. Andrew McBain..