Careers Education

Multidisciplinary endeavour

Drug discovery and development are interconnected and overlapping areas.   | Photo Credit: Pixabay

The COVID-19 pandemic has claimed many thousands of lives globally and put enormous strain on healthcare systems around the world. Those suffering from other conditions such as cancers, heart diseases, strokes, COPD, infections and diabetes have been the worst affected and the demand to produce a constant stream of new chemical entities (NCEs) as therapeutic drugs has never been higher.

The process

From discovering a new disease to a drug reaching the market is an enduring and expensive process called drug discovery. Drug discovery and development are interconnected and overlapping areas. While drug development primarily focuses on formulation, production, clinical trials and approval, drug discovery mainly involves design, synthesis and testing of a large number of compounds to find lead compounds that can stop or reverse the effects of a disease. This is achieved by targeting one or more specific macromolecules (proteins, nucleic acids, lipids or carbohydrates) in the human body and having the right specifications for a drug candidate.

At the end of the discovery process, only a small number of compounds look promising and can be pushed into the development process. Therefore, drug discovery is a science involving multidisciplinary endeavours from computer science, chemistry (especially synthetic organic chemistry), pharmacology and various other biological specialities. Appropriately trained graduates in drug discovery science who can apply their expertise effectively in research are in short supply.

What it involves

A M.Sc. in Drug Discovery Science is a very exciting course for graduates in chemistry, biological science, biomedical science, pharmacy, medicine or a related subject who want to be equipped with knowledge and skills to discover new drug candidates. The content varies from course to course but, typically, medicinal chemistry, drug design, drug synthesis, pharmacology and toxicology are covered in the core curriculum followed by an independent research project as the practical element.

During the course, the students will not only be exposed to theories in drug discovery target identification and validation, screening platforms, optimisation of small molecule drugs and biotherapeutics, and the importance of pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics, but also gain hands-on experience of molecular modelling and computer-based drug design, analytical and synthetic techniques, and modern technologies including proteomics, genomics and epigenetics. The course is usually delivered through a combination of lectures, tutorials and seminars supported by e-learning systems and practical classes. Assessment is through a combination of written examinations and coursework. A research project is part of the programme and is assessed through a written thesis and an oral examination.

Career opportunities

Drug discovery jobs are among the most challenging and rewarding. The technical and transferable skills gained through an MSc in Drug Discovery Science offer a wide range of career destinations. A research position in pharmaceutical or biotech industries, a contract research organisation (CRO) or a clinical research organisation are potential options. Many graduates also opt for a doctorate in a specific area. Others may take up jobs in regulatory bodies, pharmaceutical sales and marketing. Some even go for a career in science teaching or consulting.

The writer is Professor of Medicinal Chemistry, Department of Chemistry, University of Sheffield, the U.K.

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2021 5:59:55 AM |

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