Chemistry is critical to drug discovery, and is fundamentally involved in finding and testing novel molecules that can reach and act on disease targets. In recent years, new technology has been brought to bear on various stages of the discovery process in order to secure drug candidates quickly for clinical development.

However, high attrition in drug discovery still dogs the pharmaceutical sector, with less than 5% of discovery programmes leading to marketed drugs. Indeed, despite spiralling investment, the rate of drug discovery has been approximately constant for the last 60 years! As a result, it is more important than ever that the discovery process turns up high quality drug candidates in a way that is as effective and efficient as possible.

The ‘Next-Generation Chemistry for Medicine’ theme will focus on unlocking chemistry’s full potential across the entire drug discovery process. Some of this research will centre on the earliest stages of this process, by building new tools to identify and exploit challenging targets and pathways. Looking beyond simple proteins with very well-defined binding sites, the aim of this work will be to develop innovative tools to, for example, identify hidden yet useful binding sites, or modulate complex biomolecular interactions in a cellular context. Identifying, characterising and modulating these untapped targets and pathways has huge potential in expanding the landscape in which researchers can explore and find new drug candidates.

Closing the loop on drug discovery

Further research will centre on discovering molecular starting points for discovering drugs (for treating disease) and new chemical probes (for elucidating biological mechanisms). Hence, new tools and techniques will be developed that increase the effectiveness of molecular discovery, including computational approaches to autonomously mine experimental datasets, and a wider range of chemical reactions to expand the diversity of molecules that can be explored. Not only will this allow more efficient and rapid identification of molecules of interest, it will also provide the means to identify higher quality compounds than is currently possible.

The final strand of work within this theme will aim to control, detect and manipulate where these promising molecules go in the body. New non-invasive and/or label-free methods to detect biomolecules, quantify their effect and even direct them to specific locations will be developed.

With a remit to develop disruptive new technologies that address the known chemistry-related challenges in the drug discovery process, research will exploit the unique X-Chem High-Throughput Crystallography Screening Facility at Diamond Light Source and world-leading electron microscopy facilities at the Harwell Hub.

Further infrastructure and expertise in computational and wet chemistry, structural biology, biophysics and engineering will be harnessed through deep collaboration with Spoke university partners and industry. The resulting ambitious research conducted within this theme will lead to unique resources that will be highly attractive to researchers working in both industry and academia. Most importantly, it will ultimately lead to new, promising drugs that help patients in need.

Professor Adam Nelson

Theme leader, Next Generation Chemistry for Medicine

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Theme Leader

Professor Adam Nelson

Theme leader, Next Generation Chemistry for Medicine

Professor Adam Nelson is Theme Lead for Next Generation Chemistry for Medicine at the Rosalind Franklin Institute, Professor of Chemical Biology at the University of Leeds, and Deputy Director of the Astbury Centre for Structural Molecular Biology. He obtained his PhD […]