Postgraduate study
Gain an in-depth knowledge of all aspects of drug discovery, with multidisciplinary teaching spanning chemistry, biology and drug metabolism/pharmacokinetics 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

  • Benefit from a course accredited by the Royal Society of Chemistry
  • Join a pharmacy school ranked in the world top 10 (QS World University Rankings by Subject, 2019)
  • Be taught by academics from the School of Pharmacy and the School of Life Sciences, providing you with expertise from both disciplines
  • Engage with influential scientists from the pharmaceutical industry

With global ageing and continuous expanding populations, there is an urgent need for new medicines and better understanding of healthcare. This course can help you accelerate your career in the pharmaceutical industry.

Meet your course directors

Shailesh Mistry
Dr Shailesh N Mistry MRPharmS MRSC
Course Director

I am a UK-registered Pharmacist with the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) and an Assistant Professor of Medicinal Chemistry. Within the School of Pharmacy, I am responsible for directing and developing our postgraduate taught programmes, which include this course and MSc Drug Discovery and Pharmaceutical Sciences with Industrial Training (2-year).

I teach aspects of organic and medicinal chemistry on both the undergraduate MPharm and postgraduate MSc programmes, in addition to being a module convener for the Fundamentals of Drug Discovery and Research Project modules.

My research focusses on trying to understand complex proteins called G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) through their interaction with small molecules. GPCRs are found embedded in the membrane of cells, and convert extracellular stimuli into a range of intracellular signals. These proteins are targeted by over one third of all drugs in the clinic and regulate a vast array of processes in the body. Currently, PhD students within my group use organic and computational chemistry and pharmacology to design, make and test molecules for b-adrenergic, histamine, opiate and chemokine receptors.

Stephen Alexander
Dr Stephen PH Alexander PhD FBPhS
Course Director

I am an Associate Professor of Molecular Pharmacology within the School of Life Sciences. I am also Chair of the Nomenclature Committee of the International Union of Basic and Clinical Pharmacology (NC-IUPHAR), a Senior Editor of the British Journal of Pharmacology (BJP) and an Editor of the Concise Guide to Pharmacology (CGTP). For a number of years, I have featured in a list of the most highly-cited researchers.

I teach molecular mechanisms of drug action to undergraduates in the School of Life Sciences, and pharmacodynamics (the effects of drugs) and pharmacokinetics (what the body does to drugs) on the postgraduate MSc programmes. I am a module convener for the Drug Targets and Pharmacodynamics, Drug Discovery and Development 2 and Research Project modules.

My research focusses on Cannabis-related medicines, primarily understanding, quantifying and developing assays to screen ligands acting at the molecular targets of cannabinoids, and the enzymes involved in synthesising and metabolising endogenous cannabinoids. In addition, PhD students working with me are investigating hydrogen sulphide-synthesising enzymes, post-translation modification of nuclear hormone receptors and microglial mechanisms associated with neuroinflammation.

Student stories


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

MSc Drug Discovery and Pharmaceutical Sciences with Industrial Training

We also offer a two-year masters which includes a year working in industry. In the second year, fees are reduced to half those of the first year, as you focus on your industrial training. This unique course is a great opportunity to gain experience working in the pharmaceutical industry and build your network for your future career.

View course


Full course details

The overall aim of the course is to develop knowledge and understanding, cognitive skills, and practical and professional skills in the area of drug discovery and pharmaceutical science.

The 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.

This course will give you:

  • a critical understanding of the disease/disorder biology and how it impacts upon human health
  • knowledge in normal and abnormal pharmacology and bodily function, with an understanding of how and why drugs are either rejected or taken forward for future development
  • skills in physicochemical and pharmacological principles alongside the regulatory processes necessary for new medicine discovery and entry into the clinic
  • knowledge of the process of drug design and development so you apply to practical problems in pharmacology, drug discovery and pharmaceutical science

drug discovery 2

Individual research project

As a masters student, you will work alongside researchers who are transforming lives and improving societies. In the Research Excellence Framework 2014, we were the only school of pharmacy to have 100% of our research graded as 4* in the ‘Impact on Society’ category. This is the highest grade and means our work is world-leading.

Our portfolio of multidisciplinary research is focussed on understanding and developing treatments for some of the most complex and challenging diseases of our time. We work globally to achieve this. By joining us, you will have the opportunity to undertake your own research project, supported by a supervisor from the School of Pharmacy or the School of Life Sciences.

Previous topics have included:

  • Designing and making new antimicrobial agents to overcome existing antimicrobial resistance
  • Using molecular modelling to understand how ligands interact with a chemokine receptor in novel manner
  • Developing new fluorescence and bioluminescence-based assays to measure the binding of ligands at different receptor targets.
  • In vitro, ex vivo and in vivo pharmacokinetic characterisation of anticancer compounds and their prodrugs designed for targeting the intestinal lymphatic system 

Projects last for 12 weeks and are worth 60 credits. You can work in our laboratories and they encourage the practical application of the theory taught on the course.

Teaching and assessment

In addition to self-directed learning activities, our face-to-face teaching is a blend of lectures, workshops and laboratory classes.

Assessment will vary in number and style across each module being studied, typically you will have:

  • computer-based and written exams
  • oral and poster presentations
  • essay-style or workbook coursework

For the research project there is the opportunity to write your report in the style of a scientific publication and you will also discuss you research in a short viva.

We embrace technology to support your learning. We use e-learning packages to supplement face-to-face teaching and innovative assessment methods. All students have the option to borrow an iPad for the duration of their studies, through which you can access all the relevant materials for your studies, including lecture notes, library e-books, past papers for exams and a range of internet-based resources.




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

Masters student loans of up to £10,906 are available for taught and research masters courses. Applicants must ordinarily live in the UK or EU.

International and EU students

Masters scholarships are available for international and EU 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 you apply for your course with enough 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.

careers 450x200

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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