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Continuing development of safe and effective new medicines is critically important for global health, social prosperity and the economy. The drug discovery–development pipeline depends critically on close partnerships between scientists and clinicians and on educational programmes that ensure that the pharmacological workforce, in its broadest sense, is fit for purpose. Here I consider factors that have influenced the development of basic and clinical pharmacology in UK universities over the past 40 years and discuss ways in which basic pharmacologists, clinical pharmacologists and scientists from different disciplines can work together effectively, while retaining their professional identities and fostering developments in their disciplines. Specifically, I propose the establishment of Institutes of Drug Discovery and Development, whose activities could include development and implementation of a translational pharmacology research strategy, drawing on the collective expertise of the membership and the university as whole; provision of a forum for regular seminars and symposia to promote the discipline, encourage collaboration and develop a cohesive community; provision of a research advisory service, covering, for example, data management, applications for ethics permission, clinical trials design, statistics and regulatory affairs; liaison with potential funders and leadership of major funding bids, including funding for doctoral training; provision of advice on intellectual property protection and the commercialization of research; liaison with corporate partners to facilitate collaboration, knowledge transfer and effective translation; and leadership of undergraduate and postgraduate education in basic and clinical pharmacology and related sciences for medical and science students, including continuing professional development and transferable skills.