Course overview

Learn how to develop treatments for some of the world’s most challenging diseases of our time. You will develop key aspects of the drug discovery journey, from initial concept through to clinical treatment.

Research from the School of Pharmacy is transforming the lives of millions of people across the globe. Some of our recent contributions include:

  • developing an innovative materials discovery platform, leading to improved biomedical devices that reduce infection and improve healing
  • helping the NHS save £500m through research into the expansion of pharmacy services in England
  • influencing government policy internationally to establish community pharmacies as vaccination centres for influenza and COVID-19

This course is accredited by the Royal Society of Chemistry. You will establish practical and professional skills from both the School of Pharmacy and the School of Life Sciences. You will learn to communicate complex ideas through a variety of formats, such as a simulated pitch to investors for funding. You will develop core practical skills in key areas that underpin drug discovery, such as synthesis of drugs, and in vitro and in vivo analysis.

You will benefit from a range of teaching approaches and methods from experts collaborating with, or working in, the pharmaceutical industry. The Schools have extensive links with local and global pharmaceutical organisations, including Sygnature Discovery, Excellerate Bioscience and GlaxoSmithKline. Members of our course team have won awards for excellence in teaching and student support. Our small group learning environment can help you settle in quickly and form a lasting network of connections.

A dedicated supervisor will support you during your research project. You will work alongside our researchers who are transforming lives and improving societies.

Examples of previous research projects include:

  • Computational chemistry - Identification of Potential Inhibitors against Factor XII related to COVID-19 using Molecular Docking
  • Synthetic organic/medicinal chemistry – Facile synthetic approaches to CGP-12177 analogues for exploring the β1-adrenoceptor secondary conformation
  • In silico pharmacokinetics – Evaluation of the impact of CYP2C8 polymorphisms on the efficacy and disposition of amodiaquine using physiologically based pharmacokinetic modelling
  • Drug screening – Characterization of RO7297590 binding properties to human cannabinoid CB1 and CB2 receptors using homogenous time-resolved fluorescence (HTRF)
  • Target identification - Targeting protease inhibitors to the gut-associated lymphoid tissues for improved treatment of HIV/AIDS

Why choose this course?


Top 5

A world top 5 university for pharmacy and pharmacology

QS World University Rankings by Subject 2021


average annual starting salary

HESA Graduate Outcomes 2020

Academic expertise

from both the School of Pharmacy and the School of Life Sciences.

Joint 1st in the UK

on quality of research for Pharmacy Schools in the 2014 Research Excellence Framework and is the only School of Pharmacy to have 100% of research at 4* in the 'Impact on Society’ category.

Course content

You will learn about:

  • the historical and modern-day drug discovery process
  • organic chemistry relating to currently marketed drugs
  • Drug Metabolism and Pharmacokinetics (DMPK)
  • clinical usage of current drugs
  • pharmacotherapy of major human diseases and disorders
  • an understanding of disease biology and how it impacts upon human health
  • an understanding of how and why drugs fail or succeed in the drug discovery process
  • apply solutions to practical problems in pharmacology, drug discovery and pharmaceutical science


Core modules

Principles of Drug Discovery

Drug discovery is highly multidisciplinary in nature and you will need to be scientifically multi-lingual to be able to fully understand its practice. This module considers the following key areas:

  • A History of Drug Discovery
  • Modern Day Drug Discovery
  • Target Identification and Validation
  • Hit and Lead Identification
  • Screening Compound Libraries
  • Lead Optimisation
  • Developing a drug from a lead
  • Case studies and workshops
  • Organic Synthesis

A History of Drug Discovery: These lectures explore the historical development of the pharmaceutical industry and the regulatory bodies using numerous examples of successfully launched drugs to illustrate the timeline.

Modern Day Drug Discovery: Lectures describe the overall journey from concept to clinic in broad terms, providing a very introductory exposure to market analysis and target selection, lead discovery and lead optimisation, clinical trials and the NDA to launch.

Target Identification and Validation: These lectures will provide an overview of different types of biological target, and how they link to disease as well as important screening approaches/technologies in use. Key considerations for measuring and quantifying both ligand affinity and biological response will be explored. The importance of target validation will also be discussed.

Hit and Lead Identification: After an overview of the drug discovery process, a range of sources for ‘hits’ and ‘leads’ will be considered, including the use of synthetic libraries.

Screening Compound Libraries: Building on earlier concepts in the module this series of lectures will tackle a range of screening techniques (e.g. high throughput, fragment-based, virtual libraries) and how to identify high quality hits.

Lead Optimisation: Once the starting point of a drug discovery campaign has been identified, there are a number of key considerations for the lead optimisation phase of drug discovery. We will consider the types and importance of specific molecular interactions between ligands and their targets and tools used to identify Structure-Activity Relationships (SARs). Key physicochemical properties and parameters of importance during the optimisation phase will be explored further, as well as medicinal chemistry strategies that can be employed.

Developing a drug from a lead: This final series of lectures will cover the process involved in moving from an optimised lead to a marketable drug.

Case studies and workshops: All the major themes in the module are illustrated with a number of detailed case studies. The underlying fundamental principles relating to molecular interaction, physicochemical properties and medicinal chemistry will be tackled through a problem-based format in a workshop setting.

Organic Synthesis: This series of laboratory sessions introduces you to practical organic chemistry through the synthesis and purification of a currently marketed drug. You will apply the theoretical considerations of functional group reactivity and physicochemical properties you have encountered in lectures and have the chance to practice fundamental techniques in synthetic organic chemistry, compound purification and analysis.

Drug Targets and Pharmacodynamics

A primary theme within this module is identification of how the major classes for drugs in current clinical usage are exploited. To facilitate that, there are several subthemes:

  • Design and analysis of experiments and the search for reproducibility
  • Communication of scientific information
  • Quantitation of drug effects
  • The Diversity of Molecular Drug Targets
  • Cell Signalling Modalities and Their Relationship with Tissue and Organismal Behaviours
  • Pharmacotherapy of Major Human Diseases and Disorders

Teaching on this module is delivered through a mix of lectures, workshops, practicals and slidecasts.

Drug Discovery and Development

We put into practice key concepts learned in Fundamentals of Drug Discovery. This module considers the following key areas:

Lead Compound Identification: An in depth look at strategies employed in hit to lead; includes HTS, natural products, parallel synthesis strategies, diversity and biology oriented synthesis, fragment based drug discovery, in silico screening and computational modelling, lead-likeness and drug-likeness analysis

Primary Exploitation of SAR: An in depth look at how to undertake structure activity relationships with analysis through synthetic medicinal chemistry; includes a detailed examination of the following concepts used in drug design such as: homologous series, isosteres, ring transformations, conformational restriction, homo- and hetero-dimer ligands

Quantitative Structure Activity Relationships: – the next step in structure activity relationship evaluation through the generation of linear regression modules to explore multi-parameter optimisation of compounds. For example the optimisation of compounds based on biological affinity, metabolic stability, solubility, permeability and other such physicochemical parameters.

Spatial Organisation, Receptor Mapping and Molecular Modelling: In these areas we extend learning and examine how molecules bind to their target proteins through exploring ligand-active site interactions. We begin to explore key concepts in designing new molecules to enhance key interactions leading to more affine compounds. We utilise state-of-the-art molecular docking techniques to design compounds and visualise how these molecules might bind at the molecular level to the active site of protein targets.

Patent evaluation: We examine what information is contained within a chemical patent and examine how we can use this information to generate potential fast-follower projects.

Team-based medicinal chemistry project: Working in the anti-malarial area, we investigate the mechanism of action of key anti-malarial compounds and design our own drug discovery programme presenting project ideas to a dragon’s den of experts.  

Case Histories: We finally put our learning to practice through investigating case histories of successful drugs:

  • Development of a Tyrosine Kinase Receptor inhibitor: Gefitinib
  • Therapies for Hyperacidity: Development of proton pump inhibitors
  • Design of the Anti-HIV Protease Inhibitor Darunavir
Drug Metabolism and Pharmacokinetics

The journey through preclinical drug discovery through to Investigational New Drug, clinical trials and launch. The focus is on understanding the relationship between drug blood/plasma concentrations and efficacy through the study of pharmacokinetics and drug metabolism. To facilitate that, there are several subthemes:

  • The key organs in the body influencing drug pharmacokinetics
  • The influence of pharmacokinetics in the drug discovery process
  • In-vitro and in-vivo methods available for quantitative pharmacokinetics
  • Compartmental and non-compartmental approaches to estimating pharmacokinetic parameters
  • The prediction of human pharmacokinetic parameters and simulation of plasma concentration- time profiles
  • The role of the Regulatory Authorities in drug development

Teaching on this module is delivered through a mix of lectures and workshops, with particular contributions from external speakers.

Practical Drug Discovery

The module aims to provide you with first-hand research experience and insights into practical drug discovery. Alongside the practical elements, lectures provide the theoretical basis for quantitation and prediction of ligand binding, target function and the assessment of drug effects, as well as theoretical underpinning of drug metabolism and pharmacokinetics.

You will learn how to evaluate scientific literature and communication data. Be able to use library resources and scientific literature for your studies. Develop strong problem-solving skills. Learn how to present a scientific report.

You will learn to work safely in a laboratory. Undertake more advanced laboratory-based studies on competences in techniques related to the course. You will be part of a team to solve problems of a theoretical or experimental nature and provide appropriate solutions.

This module includes coursework and assessments.

Individual Research Project

Drug discovery is a practical topic. This module provides an experience of contemporary drug discovery. Alongside the practical elements, the research project report will enhance transferable skills such as literature surveying, database mining, critical analysis and problem-solving.

The above is a sample of the typical modules we offer but is not intended to be construed and/or relied upon as a definitive list of the modules that will be available in any given year. Modules (including methods of assessment) may change or be updated, or modules may be cancelled, over the duration of the course due to a number of reasons such as curriculum developments or staffing changes. Please refer to the module catalogue for information on available modules. This content was last updated on Friday 26 November 2021.

Learning and assessment

How you will learn

  • Lectures
  • Workshops
  • Seminars
  • Lab sessions
  • Past papers
  • eLearning

Core modules are typically delivered by professors, associate and assistant professors. Our extensive links with the pharmaceutical industry means we can offer a selection of lectures and workshops which are delivered by external speakers, with field-leading expertise in the area. Some practical laboratory sessions and research projects may be supported by postgraduate research students or postdoctoral research fellows.

We use Moodle, an e-learning package for the core parts of the course. For interactive sessions we use in-class polling platforms e.g. Socrative. We supplement face-to-face teaching and innovative assessment methods. All students have the option to borrow an iPad for the duration of their studies.

For the individual research project you will complete a report in the style of a scientific publication and discuss your research in a short viva. You will present your research in the form of a scientific poster.

How you will be assessed

  • Written exam
  • Oral exam
  • Poster presentation
  • Essay
  • Coursework
  • Online workbook
  • Online exams

Assessments will vary in number and styles across each module being studied.

Contact time and study hours

As a guide, one credit equals approximately 10 hours of work. For the taught-stage of the course, you will spend approximately a third of your time (around 400 hours) in lectures, tutorials, workshops, practical classes, including the directed study which is necessary in preparation for workshops/practical classes. Our class sizes stand at approximately 20. The remaining time will be completed as independent study. Tutorial sessions are built into the timetable and there are several group and individual meetings timetabled throughout the year. We hold a minimum of four to six tutor meetings throughout the year. Additional meetings can be requested as needed.

The individual research project stage has an initial period of training. You will need to complete several assessment components for the module. There will be an element of independent research. Efficient time management during the project period is essential. For this course, the individual research project represents one third of the entire course (60 credits or approximately 600 hours). We hold a minimum of five formal meetings with your research supervisor throughout the duration of your project.

Entry requirements

All candidates are considered on an individual basis and we accept a broad range of qualifications. The entrance requirements below apply to 2022 entry.

Undergraduate degree2:1 related to biology or chemistry including (but not restricted to) pharmacy, pharmacology, biochemistry, genetics, life sciences, natural sciences, biomedical sciences


Our step-by-step guide covers everything you need to know about applying.

How to apply


All listed fees are per year of study.

UK fees are set in line with the national UKRI maximum fee limit. We expect fees for 2022 entry to be confirmed in August 2021.

Additional information for international students

If you are a student from the EU, EEA or Switzerland, you will pay international tuition fees in most cases. If you are resident in the UK and have 'settled' or 'pre-settled' status under the EU Settlement Scheme, you will be entitled to 'home' fee status.

Irish students will be charged tuition fees at the same rate as UK students. UK nationals living in the EU, EEA and Switzerland will also continue to be eligible for ‘home’ fee status at UK universities until 31 December 2027.

For further guidance, check our information for applicants from the EU.

These fees are for full-time study. If you are studying part-time, you will be charged a proportion of this fee each year (subject to inflation).

Additional costs

As a student on this course, we do not anticipate any extra significant costs, alongside your tuition fees and living expenses. We know mono photocopying is 4p per page if you wish to print anything.

You should be able to access most of the books you’ll need through our libraries, though you may wish to purchase your own copies. A list of recommended books will be provided at the start of your course. New paper-back copies vary in price from £20.00 to £100.00 depending on the supplier.

It is beneficial to have your own laptop or PC to have access to our virtual learning environment and complete and submit coursework. Prices vary depending on what model you buy. We recommend you  read our minimum equipment specifications, to help you purchase the right model.


There are many ways to fund your postgraduate course, from scholarships to government loans.

We also offer a range of international masters scholarships for high-achieving international scholars who can put their Nottingham degree to great use in their careers.

Check our guide to find out more about funding your postgraduate degree.

Postgraduate funding


We offer individual careers support for all postgraduate students.

Expert staff can help you research career options and job vacancies, build your CV or résumé, develop your interview skills and meet employers.

Each year 1,100 employers advertise graduate jobs and internships through our online vacancy service. We host regular careers fairs, including specialist fairs for different sectors.

International students who complete an eligible degree programme in the UK on a student visa can apply to stay and work in the UK after their course under the Graduate immigration route. Eligible courses at the University of Nottingham include bachelors, masters and research degrees, and PGCE courses.

Graduate destinations

We have seen a number of alumni progress into a range of scientific careers, particularly in pharmaceutical industry, academia, other related industries (e.g. scientific writing) or have continued their studies by starting a PhD.

Both Schools work and collaborate with strong industrial links, such as Sygnature Discovery Ltd and GlaxoSmithKline. We have hosted guest lectures with these companies providing an industrial insight to further enhance student's employability. 

Career progression

81.3% of undergraduates from the School of Pharmacy secured graduate level employment or further study within 15 months of graduation. The average annual salary for these graduates was £30,500.*

* HESA Graduate Outcomes 2020. The Graduate Outcomes % is derived using The Guardian University Guide methodology. The average annual salary is based on graduates working full-time within the UK.

Royal Society of Chemistry

This course is accredited by the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Two masters graduates proudly holding their certificates
" I am a UK-registered Pharmacist with the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC). I teach three of the core modules. These are Principles of Drug Discovery, Drug Discovery and Development, and the individual research project. PhD students in my group use organic and computational chemistry and pharmacology to design, make and test molecules for several therapeutically important G protein-coupled receptors. "
Dr Shailesh Mistry

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This content was last updated on Friday 26 November 2021. Every effort has been made to ensure that this information is accurate, but changes are likely to occur given the interval between the date of publishing and course start date. It is therefore very important to check this website for any updates before you apply.