Fig. 1 Balthasar Luchsinger

After the foundation of the university in 1835 it took quite a while before the institute of pharmacology was established. The subject pharmacology was taught by professors from the faculty of medicine. It was therefore a cornerstone for the institute when a professorship of pharmacology and toxicology was installed in 1881. Balthasar Luchsinger (Fig. 1) was the first professor of pharmacology in Bern. Already three years later he was appointed to the university of Zuerich.

Fig. 2 Rudolf Demme

After the leave of Prof. Luchsinger the government split the subject in two separate ones, pharmacology and toxicology. The pharmacological part was taken by Rudolf Demme (Fig. 2) and in the winter semester 1885/86 the government decided to establish an institute of pharmacology at the Theodor-Kocher Gasse in the building of the governmental pharmacy (Fig. 3). The salary of Prof. R. Demme was 3500 sFr. per year and the staff consisted of himself and a house caretaker. Prof. Demme investigated anesthesia and poisoning in childhood and he worked about antipyretica. He died in 1892 only 56 years old.

Fig. 3 The building of the governmental pharmacy at the Theodor-Kocher street. The institute of pharmacology was on the third floor.

The years at the end of the last century were characterised by turbulences in regard of the appointment of a professor to the institute. A new prospering period began in 1898 when K.W. Arthur Heffter was elected by the faculty of medicine to overtake the job. His classical work about "Meskal-Alkaloide" became famous and the chronicler tells that he pushed his scientific investigations forward by "heroic" self-experiments. In 1906 Prof. Heffter followed a call to the university of Marburg which he left to Berlin some years later.

His successor was Emil Buergi from Bern who hold the title of the director of the institute of pharmacology for 36 years. His salary per year was 5000 sFr. (at least before the stock market crash in 1929) and the staff increased by an assistant and a secretary. His scientific focus was first on secretion and toxicity of mercury, arsen and combinations of brom. Later he analyzed the potency of anesthetics, combination of medicines and dose-response behavior. During the second world war Prof. E. Buergi retired 70 years old (1942). He died in 1947 leaving behind the "Buergi foundation" from which we profit even today.

A new topic was brought in when Walther Wildbrandt became chief of the institute in 1946. His interests were transport processes across the cell membrane. Under this general principle he investigated the regulation of heart contractions by calcium ions. His most important contributions where studies about sugar translocation across biological membrane. In addition Prof. W. Wildbrandt succeeded in realising the idea of a new building for the institute of pharmacology which you can see at the top of the page. The flourishing economy in the 60ies allowed to increase the staff up to 14 persons reaching a maximum of 35 persons in the lavishing 80ies. Impressed by his predecessor Prof. W. Wildbrandt stayed for 32 years at the top of the institute. He retired in 1977 and died two years later.

Already in 1972 Harald Reuter became managing director at the institute. In 1978 Marcel H. Bickel was appointed to the vacant professorship and a codirectorium of Prof. H. Reuter and Prof. M.H. Bickel was established based on a rotational principle. Prof. Bickel retired in 1993 and Prof. Reuter in 1999.

In 2000, Prof. Hans-Uwe Simon was appointed as new chair and director. He built up a new research focus of immunopharmacology that obtained high international reputation over the next twenty years. In 2021, he was appointed president of the Medical School in Brandenburg (Germany) and therefore reduced his work load in Bern, but still kept his research ongoing. In 2021, Prof. Andrea Huwiler was appointed as a managing director ad interim of the Institute. With Prof. Huwiler, the first female Full professor of Pharmacology and head of the Institute came into charge.

Source: Simon HU, Reuter H, Bickel MH: Pharmakologisches Institut, Medizinische Fakultät Bern. In: Geschichte der pharmakologischen, klinisch-pharmakologischen und toxikologischen Institute im deutschsprachigen Raum (Ed. A. Philippou), Berenkamp Verlag, Innsbruck, 2004, p. 94-101.