School of Natural and Environmental Sciences

Medicinal Chemistry & Chemical Biology

Medicinal Chemistry and Chemical Biology


Medicinal Chemistry is a traditional strength at Newcastle University with a track record of successful research, including the discovery of drugs that have progressed to clinic. The area has core capacity in anti-cancer drug discovery and biomolecular imaging along with expertise in computational chemistry and chemical biology.

Drug discovery continues to be an important yet very challenging process.  The Medicinal Chemistry and Chemical Biology research area is focussed on the rapid development of new treatments for key disease areas (cancers, neurodegenerative diseases and infectious disease) through the development of new technologies and methods. 

Since the discovery in Newcastle of the first PARP inhibitors for the treatment of BRCA deficient cancer and contributing to the development of rucaparib as a clinically used drug, the research area has been primarily focussed on the discovery of novel targeted anticancer agents

More recent additions to the area have added expertise in radiochemistry, bio-imaging, chemical biology and computational chemistry adding to the area’s capabilities to develop new technologies and approaches speeding up the process of drug discovery and development.


Our academics work across a number of themes in the Medicinal Chemistry and Chemical Biology research area.

Cancer drug discovery

Discovering novel targeted therapies for the treatment of cancer in the Drug Discovery Programme of the Northern Institute of Cancer Research (NICR).  Our research aims to discover new treatments for cancers in areas of unmet clinical need using cutting edge drug design and synthesis techniques.  With a focus on structure-based design, often using fragment leads to develop new ways of addressing challenging protein targets.  Our academics work in very close collaboration with colleagues in bioscience and structural biology to progress our projects.

Antibiotic discovery

Our research engages in a discovery program to discover and develop new antibiotic small molecules for use in combatting the rise of antibiotic resistant pathogenic bacterial infections. Through the use of modern molecular biology and bioinformatics techniques our research can rapidly identify new natural product antibiotics, active against G+ and G- multidrug resistant pathogens, from our amycolatopsis strain collection. Total and semi-synthesis as well as synthetic biology approaches are then employed in gaining an understanding of the mode of action of these compounds as well as improving their pharmacokinetic properties.

New approaches to drug discovery

Our academics aim to develop new experimental and computational approaches to drug discovery, which will make the discovery of new drugs more efficient in the future.  These include new ways of carrying out fragment screening and optimisation, new applications of DNA encoding in drug discovery and new computational methods for atomistic modelling of drug-protein interactions.

Radiochemistry and imaging

Our academics have constructed the first dedicated PET radiochemistry laboratory in the region to support both the pre-clinical PET-CT and clinical PET-CT and PET-MR scanners, allowing rapid in vivo evaluation of clinical leads and their translation through pre-clinical development to first-in-man studies. Central to this is the development of new radiochemical methods and automated production protocols using multi-step batch and flow chemistry techniques.

Currently underway, and in association with the NHS, is the expansion of the radiochemistry facilities, both production and analytical, which will greatly expand the range of available radiopharmaceuticals, pioneering new applications for imaging. Our academics are currently developing multi-modality imaging probes which are highly fluorescent, organelle specific and capable of carrying a radionuclide in order to facilitate both in vitro and in vivo imaging, in order to better study oncology and neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.

Computational drug discovery

By working in close collaboration with experiment and exploiting high performance computing resources, our academics aim to use novel computational approaches firstly to understand the mechanisms of disease and secondly to improve the efficiency of the drug discovery process.

Our research uses a wide range of techniques in our work, but our focus is on the atomistic modelling of biological molecules through classical molecular dynamics, large-scale quantum mechanical simulations and structural bioinformatics.

One focus of these activities is in new approaches to diseases of ageing.  This is a major risk factor of neurodegeneration, cardiovascular diseases, and many cancers. By combining computation with synthetic chemistry, in vitro and cellular assays we investigate the molecular mechanisms that contribute to these age-related conditions, with the focus on structure-based design and development of new drugs and tool compounds.


Our academics working within the Medicinal Chemistry and Chemical Biology research area have strong links with both industry and academia.

Collaboration includes:

  • The NICR Medicinal Chemistry group has a strategic alliance with Astex Pharmaceuticals (Cambridge) and Cancer Research UK;
  • Several collaborative projects with AstraZeneca focussed on innovative new approaches to cancer treatment, new methods of hit generation and chemical probe discovery;
  • The isolation, structure determination and medical applications of novel bioactive natural products are being investigated in collaboration with the Faculty of Medical Sciences at Newcastle and Demuris Ltd;
  • Collaborations with the University together with the Institute of Cell and Molecular Biosciences and the Dental School in the area of biofilms;
  • The radiochemistry facilities have enabled collaborative research and a multi-disciplinary research team has been established forming a key component of the Centre for In Vivo Imaging. The radiochemistry group also has joint projects with NICR, the Institute of Neuroscience and Clinical and Laboratory Sciences at Newcastle and is a partner in the multi-site UK Dementia Imaging Platform;
  • A joint project with the University’s Institute of Human Genetics and UK, EU academic and industrial partners on 18F-tagged DNA mimics for evaluation of as therapeutic agents for the treatment of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy;
  • A joint project with the University of Leeds on allosteric inhibitors of the Ras-activating exchange factor SOS, funded by the Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund.