Postgraduate study
This course is designed to equip students with an in-depth knowledge of all aspects of drug discovery, integrating teaching in chemistry and biology to develop graduates who have exceptional scientific understanding and a host of transferable skills.
MSc Drug Discovery and Pharmaceutical Sciences
1 year full-time
Entry requirements
2:1 (or international equivalent) related to biology or chemistry including (but not restricted to) pharmacy, pharmacology, biochemistry, genetics, life sciences, natural sciences, biomedical sciences
Other requirements
International students whose first language is not English are required to meet the IELTS requirements (or equivalent) before they can register on an academic programme; applicants from certain countries may have these requirements waived subject to the University of Nottingham policy for waiving English language entry requirements.
7.0 (no less than 6.0 in any element)

If these grades are not met, English preparatory courses may be available
Start date
UK/EU fees
£11,475 - Terms apply
International fees
£25,200 - Terms apply
Royal Society of Chemistry
University Park Campus



Drug discovery

The course is accredited by the Royal Society of Chemistry and satisfies the academic requirements for Chartered Chemist (CChem). RSC accreditation requires rigorous evaluation and denotes a high quality degree programme that is recognised by future employers in both the academic and industrial sectors.

Royal Society of Chemistry logo for accredited degrees

The course blends the two fundamental disciplines underpinning drug discovery and provides students with the opportunity to practise background theory within the productive, research-led environments offered by the Schools of Pharmacy and Life Sciences. These schools have world-leading expertise in the areas of drug discovery and pharmaceutical science, and students on this course will have the chance to learn directly from staff at the forefront of the field.

The course content covers all aspects of drug discovery, and includes a 12-week (60 credit) research project based in our laboratories, encouraging the practical application of the theory taught within the programme. 

The course is technology-rich, using e-learning packages to supplement face-to-face teaching and innovative assessment methods.

Student stories


Full course details

The overall aim of the MSc is to develop knowledge and understanding, cognitive skills, key skills and practical and professional skills in the area of Drug Discovery and Pharmaceutical Science.

The overall drug discovery process from ‘concept to clinic’ provides the reference point for the education and training delivered in the more specific scientific and regulatory aspects.

Students will be able to develop an understanding of the scientific principles underlying the main topic areas housed within the arena of drug discovery. In addition, upon completing the degree students will be able to make effective use of electronic communication and information search and retrieval resources to facilitate development of key critical skills with which to assess and analyse a broad array of scientific literature.

drug discovery 2

When taken together, the ethos of the programme is therefore to:

  • instil, develop and encourage an independent approach to learning, through initiative and self-motivation
  • provide the education required to become a translational scientist; with pertinent knowledge of basic and clinical science that can be applied to drug discovery and development
  • instil a critical understanding of disease/disorder biology and how it impacts upon human health
  • provide the necessary knowledge of chosen areas of normal and abnormal pharmacology and bodily function to equip the student with an understanding of how and why drugs are either rejected or taken forward for future development
  • present physicochemical and pharmacological principles alongside the regulatory processes necessary for new medicine discovery and entry into the clinic
  • contextualise this knowledge and principles to the process of drug design and development and therefore equip the graduate to apply knowledge to practical problems in pharmacology, drug discovery and pharmaceutical science.



Fundamentals of Drug Discovery

Drug discovery is highly multidisciplinary in nature and students need to be scientifically multi-lingual to be able to fully understand its practice. As such this module considers the following key themes:

  • 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 Industry
These 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.
  • The Language of Medicinal Chemistry
These lectures provide some context to some of the key terms and definitions the students will be exposed to during the course as well as considering the key phases of drug activity (pharmaceutical, pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamics) alongside established drug classification systems.
  • Measurement/Expression of Drug Action
Introduces the concept of a “drug target” and explores the use of in vitro, in vivo and ex vivo experiments that can be employed to quantify drug-target effects.
  • Protein Structure & Function
These lectures explore protein structure and function and introduces the concepts around X-ray crystallography and structure determination.
  • The Chemistry of Drug Action
A much more intense and detailed look at the fundamentals of medicinal chemistry and drug design. These lectures explore areas such as physical properties, stereochemistry, functional group chemistry and electrostatic/steric interactions.
  • Introduction to Physical Properties and Drug Administration
In these lectures we consider the major routes of drug administration, including membranes and barriers to absorption, prodrugs etc.
Drug Targets and Pharmacodynamics

This module covers an in-depth overview of the major molecular targets of drugs in current clinical usage. It looks at how the activity of a drug can be measured and gives practical experience of some of these methods. The module also introduces the concepts involved in early drug discovery. As such, this module considers the following key themes:

The Diversity of Molecular Drug Targets
These lectures explore the different molecular targets of drugs in clinical usage now and in the near future.
The Quantitation of Drug Action
These lectures describe the ways in which drug affinity, potency and efficacy can be quantified.
Drug Discovery & Development 1 (Hit Identification to Lead Optimisation)

Drug discovery is highly multidisciplinary in nature and students need to be scientifically ‘multi-lingual’ to be able to fully understand its practice. As such this module considers the following key themes:

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.
Exploitation of SAR
An in depth look at how to undertake SAR analysis through synthetic medicinal chemistry; includes homologous series, isosteres, ring transformations, conformational restriction, homo and heterodimer ligands.
Lead Optimisation and Receptor Mapping
Analysis of chemical and pharmacological space, chemical and biological diversity and in silico methods of docking and scoring.

Alongside the following lecture-based case studies:

  • 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 Discovery & Development 2 (Drug metabolism and Pharmacokinetics)

The prediction of human pharmacokinetics and dose is a key requirement in drug-discovery as it influences aspects such as dose, efficacy and safety. This module considers the following key themes:

Introduction to drug metabolism
A close look at the role of drug metabolism in early discovery which details how information regarding the metabolic fate of potential new drugs shapes a project progression towards a pre-clinical candidate. Detailed discussions of the pharmacokinetic properties that need to be optimised in order to attain a pre-clinical candidate are also covered in detail.
Organs involved in ADME
An examination of the anatomy, physiology, pathology and therapeutic role/s of key organs involved in absorption, distribution, metabolism and excretion.
Quantitative PK
An examination of the analysis and quantitation of drug absorption, distribution and excretion and the influence of chemical structure of the compounds under study.
The prediction of human pharmacokinetics and dose
This covers the numerous methods available for the prediction of the primary pharmacokinetics properties of bioavailability, clearance, volume and half-life and how these are used simulate the human blood/plasma concentration – time profile. If this information is coupled with an understanding of the pharmacology of the compounds then by using the approach of “quantitative pharmacology” it is possible to estimate potential clinical doses.
Pathways in drug metabolism and excretion
An examination of the role of drug metabolism on transformation of drugs, including analysis of Phase I and Phase II chemical reactions. The theme includes a discussion of the role of drug transporters in understanding the clearance and disposition of potential new drugs. Emphasis is placed on recognising the key chemical features that give rise to a given metabolic pathway.
Drug formulation
An examination of the influence of formulation on ADME properties of drugs.
Regulatory affairs
A discussion of the requirements for presentation of a drug as a licensed medicine.
Introduction to PK/PD
An introduction to the incorporation of pharmacokinetic factors in pharmacodynamic study design.
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.

Assessment will be via a combination of written and online exams, practical lab-based skill assessments and written practical reports, coursework, presentations, research project and viva voce examination.


The above is a sample of the typical modules that 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. Due to the passage of time between commencement of the course and subsequent years of the course, modules may change due to developments in the curriculum and information is provided for indicative purposes only.


Fees and funding

The Graduate School website provides information on internal and external sources of postgraduate funding.

As a student on this course, we do not anticipate any extra significant costs, alongside your tuition fees and living expenses. 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 which you would need to factor into your budget.

We also offer an iPad for the year and have a supply of laptops which are offered to students on loan.

Government loans for masters courses

The Government offers postgraduate student loans for students studying a taught or research masters course. Applicants must ordinarily live in England or the EU. Student loans are also available for students from Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

International and EU students

Masters scholarships are available for international students from a wide variety of countries and areas of study. You must already have an offer to study at Nottingham to apply. Please note closing dates to ensure your course application is submitted in good time.

Information and advice on funding your degree, living costs and working while you study is available on our website, as well as country-specific resources.


Careers and professional development

Graduates can expect to move into a range of scientific careers, particularly with global pharmaceutical companies and pharmaceutical SMEs. Strong industrial links to the course will further enhance students’ employability.

The MSc also provides a strong grounding for students subsequently wishing to study for a PhD in a related subject area.

Average starting salary and career progression


In 2017, 97.4% of postgraduates in the school who were available for employment had secured work or further study within six months of graduation. The average starting salary was £29,301 with the highest being £37,000.*

* Known destinations of full-time home postgraduates 2016/17. Salaries are calculated based on the median of those in full-time paid employment within the UK.

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Career prospects and employability


University of Nottingham is consistently named as one of the most targeted universities by Britain’s leading graduate employers – ranked in the top 10 in The Graduate Market 2013-2019, High Fliers Research.

Those who take up a postgraduate research opportunity with us will not only receive support in terms of close contact with supervisors and specific training related to your area of research, you will also benefit from dedicated careers advice from our Careers and Employability Service.

Individual guidance appointments, career management training programme, access to resources and invitations to events including skills workshops and recruitment fairs are just some of the ways in which they can help you develop your full potential, whether you choose to continue within an academic setting or are looking at options outside of academia. Once you have graduated, you will have access to our careers service for life.


This online prospectus has been drafted in advance of the academic year to which it applies. Every effort has been made to ensure that the information is accurate at the time of publishing, but changes (for example to course content) are likely to occur given the interval between publishing and commencement of the course. It is therefore very important to check this website for any updates before you apply for the course where there has been an interval between you reading this website and applying.

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