Founding of the SASBCP 

The South African Society for Basic and Clinical Pharmacology (SASBCP), known as the South African Pharmacology Society prior to September 2007, was founded in 1966 with its first congress held in 1967. It has held annual meetings since and celebrated its 50th anniversary at the annual congress in 2016. The society was registered as a Section 21 Non-Profitable Organisation late 2006, and formally changed administratively as such from 1 September 2007.

The SASBCP spearheaded the ‘Pharmacology for Africa’ (PharfA) initiative in 2005/6 to promote pharmacology on the African continent. Furthermore, the society hosted the International Union of Basic and Clinical Pharmacology (IUPHAR) 17th World Congress of Pharmacology (WCP2014) in Cape Town in July 2014. Detailed records of these historical events and activities is described in the June and December 2014 issues of Pharmacology International.

While the society always played a central role in promoting the pharmacological sciences in general, its enjoyed support from academic, industrial and professional practice spheres. The society also has played an important role in promoting pharmacology among our young scientists and recently also started an initiative to promote the science of pharmacology in the continent of Africa.

A Message from a Founding Member

Prof. Ben Potgieter, a founding and honorary member of the society, describes the exciting first few years of society as follows:

When Dr. Johan Offermeier was appointed as the Head of the Pharmacology Section in the Pharmacy Department at Potchefstroom in 1966, he had just completed his Ph.D. at Nijmegen under Prof. E.J. Ariëns, a leading light in the field of molecular pharmacology. He felt the need for a forum at which pharmacology research could be showcased. If one included Onderstepoort and the Pharmacy Department at Potchefstroom there were 7 institutions with pharmacologists. Having spoken to Prof. Deo Botha (physician heading the Pharmacology Department at Pretoria who had the unique capacity to frown his bald patch and forehead at the same time) and Prof. Bob Charlton (very versatile person whom I believe was given a sabbatical and told to complete the switch from surgeon to pharmacologist, as that was what Wits Medical School needed – he later became the Vice Chancellor of Wits University), they proceeded to contact all the pharmacologists and medical directors in the country.

Pharmacology was a novel discipline and very much in favour at that time so a lot of support was generated and it was decided to found the Society. I think Prof. Andries van Zyl of Stellenbosch was tasked to draw up the original constitution – in both Afrikaans and English of course as the Society would be bilingual. A Congress was planned for the very next year. Ariëns would be the first international speaker as he was keen to visit his protégé and to see Africa. Arnold Beckett would follow the next year. The Congress was planned to take place in October “to enable researchers to attend the main overseas summer congresses and also to ensure that top overseas speakers would be free to visit us”. Actually I think it was so that we could get some research done and knock it into shape in time for the grand occasion. The first Congress drew an audience in excess of a 100 members if I remember correctly.

Major academics were Prof. Norman Sapieka (UCT – he wrote the first South African pharmacology book), Prof. John Reid (Natal – he was frequently called upon as a radio announcer because of his excellent modulation and diction. He eventually became Deputy Vice Chancellor of UCT ) and Prof. Andries van Zyl (Stellenbosch – poet and farmer with a KWV quota). The latter two persons were actually physiologists who headed departments of physiology and pharmacology and so the physiologists were also drawn into the fold. For many years the two Societies held joint Congresses.
Bloemfontein and Medunsa did not exist, Rhodes did not have a Pharmacology Department and the other Pharmacy training institutions were at Colleges for Advanced Technical Education which likewise did not have Pharmacology Departments.

Onderstepoort contributed Dr. Bill Jenkins, animal pharmacologist and Dr. Theuns Naude, toxicologist. A famous retired toxicologist, Dr. Douw Steyn, who fought long and hard battles to prevent fluoridation of water, was another heavy weight. Lighter weights were the young Dr. Otto Muller (newly back from Germany and who would eventually head pharmacology as well as the very successful FARMOVS at Bloemfontein) myself (Ben Potgieter) and Mrs. Marie du Preez, both new postgraduates at Potchefstroom. The following year would see Prof. Perry Leary (with the Oxford accent) take over in Natal and join the Society. Prof. Gear and Prof. Furman both from Wits as well as Dr. Ralph Bernstein of the Blood Bank in Natal were early members and Prof. Peter Folb followed later when Prof. Sapieka retired.

Medical directors who played a big role in those early days were Dr. Bauling (Janssen Pharmaceuticals) and Dr. Max Durr (who introduced the Boehringer-Ingleheim bursaries), Dr. Ben Krengel (Mer-National) and Dr. Willie van Rensburg (SKF – before they became Smith Kline and Beecham).

Such high tech items as overhead projectors were unknown so the really advanced speakers used slides that invariably ended up upside down, back to front, with broken glass or popped and jammed the projector. Poster presentations were an unheard of novelty that would be introduced some years later.

Well at least that is how I remember the launching of the SA Pharmacology Society.