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NES8403 : Advanced Methods in Chemical Biology and Drug Discovery

  • Offered for Year: 2024/25
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Ian Hardcastle
  • Lecturer: Dr James Knight, Professor Akane Kawamura, Dr Tom McAllister
  • Owning School: Natural and Environmental Sciences
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus

Your programme is made up of credits, the total differs on programme to programme.

Semester 1 Credit Value: 10
ECTS Credits: 5.0
European Credit Transfer System


To provide an overview of the methods and approaches used in modern chemical biology and drug discovery.
To introduce key concepts and techniques in chemical biology, including Synthesis of DNA, RNA and peptides
To introduce key concepts and techniques in drug discovery. To discuss the methods used in key stages of a project i.e. target identification and validation, hit discovery, hit validation, hit-to-lead optimisation and lead optimisation.

Outline Of Syllabus

Chemical Biology and Drug Discovery
The discovery of new drugs to treat unmet needs of patients is a global undertaking. This module
covers modern topics in drug discovery e.g., target validation, hit identification and the pre-clinical optimisation of drugs. Theoretical concepts and experimental methods will be discussed in detail. The underpinning chemical biology methods will be described in detail, focusing on how chemical biology interlinks with drug discovery. Recent literature is used to illustrated with case studies from recent discovery projects.

Chemical Biology topics
List of topics covered:
1.       Nucleotide chemistry / applications: including
a.       DNA/RNA Chemical synthesis. Chemical modifications,
b.       Biosynthetic methods
c.       Research Applications – e.g. next-generation sequencing, aptamers
2.       Proteins and biochemical/biophysical characterisation: including
a.       Molecular cloning, site-directed mutagenesis,
b.       Protein characterisation: including X-ray crystallography, NMR, CD
c.       Evolving enzymes as efficient biocatalysts
3.       Bioconjugation to modify proteins and biomolecules: including
a.       Click chemistry
b.       Photochemistry
4.       Peptides: unnatural amino acids, synthesis and peptide libraries
5.       Carbohydrate chemistry

Methods in Drug Discovery
List of topics covered:
Overview of drug discovery and drug targets
Target validation methods (e.g. siRNA, CRISPR-Cas9)
Hit identification technologies - Building assay cascades
Fragment-based drug discovery - Biophysical testing
DNA-encoded libraries
Phenotypic drug discovery - Target deconvolution
Cell based assays
Chemical probes vs drugs
Small-molecule library synthesis strategies (parallel synthesis)
Hit-to-lead strategies and methods
Lead optimisation - challenges
Lead optimisation - in vitro and in vivo DMPK
Targeted protein degradation – using cellular machinery and chemistry to act on protein of interest e.g. PROTACs

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion15:005:00Formative coursework exercise
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion110:0010:00Summative coursework exercise
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion100:305:00Formative online coursework exercises
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture21:002:00Seminars reviewing assessment and feedback
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture181:0018:00Lectures
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study140:0040:00Background reading
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study102:0020:00Accessing prerecorded lecture material and background reading
Jointly Taught With
Code Title
NES8801Modern Methods in Chemical Biology and Drug Discovery
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

Key concepts and supporting examples are delivered by online teaching materials and in person lectures. Seminars are used to provide practice questions and give assessment feedback.

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Written exercise1M100Summative assessment of lecture materials
Formative Assessments

Formative Assessment is an assessment which develops your skills in being assessed, allows for you to receive feedback, and prepares you for being assessed. However, it does not count to your final mark.

Description Semester When Set Comment
Written exercise1MFormative coursework exercise
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The summative coursework exercise will assess the students’ ability to understand and apply their learning to relevant literature case studies in drug discovery and chemical biology.
The formative coursework exercise will assess and provide feedback on the students’ ability to communicate their understanding and applied learning with a relevant literature case study in drug discovery.

Reading Lists