School of Chemistry

MSc Chemical Biology and Drug Design

MSc Chemical Biology and Drug Design

The University of Leeds launched the first taught MSc degree in Chemical Biology in the UK. The course was one of the first two MSc courses in the UK to receive accreditation from the Royal Society of Chemistry; graduates from the programme with an appropriate first degree in chemistry satisfy the academic requirements for the award of Chartered Chemist (CChem) status.

The MSc course has been strongly supported by the research councils and the pharmaceutical industry. The course was established using substantial funding from EPSRC and further investment in the course has been made by BBSRC, AstraZeneca and GSK.

Scholarships
The School of Chemistry offers up to 10 partial-fee Dean's International Excellence Scholarships worth £3,000 each. These awards are open to international candidates who have been accepted for admission on this full-time MSc programme, and who are eligible to pay tuition fees at the full international rate. Eligible applicants will automatically be considered for these awards at the time of application, so are not required to complete an application form.

Other University of Leeds scholarships are available for postgraduate study, please see the scholarships website for further details.

This MSc focuses on both chemical biology and drug design. Chemical biology is the application of chemical tools and ideas to biological and medical problems. The approach is highly interdisciplinary and may involve the interaction of, for example, synthetic chemists with protein scientists. Molecules with specific biological properties may be designed or may be discovered by screening. With the small molecule tools in hand, their interactions with proteins may be probed using biophysical methods and the effects on cellular physiology established.

You will be taught by experts from across the Astbury Centre in chemical biology, biophysics and medicinal chemistry using a "problem-based" approach. In addition, visiting lecturers from the pharmaceutical industry provide expertise in industrially-relevant applications of chemical biology and drug design.

This Masters course bridges the gap between an undergraduate degree in a core subject, and genuinely interdisciplinary research in chemical biology. The course has been designed to take advantage of the diverse background of the students. You will develop the skills needed to solve real-life research problems, benefitting from multi-million investment in fantastic research facilities. Rather than being focussed on a single discipline, you will learn to use either chemical or biological approaches as appropriate to the problem in hand.

Unlike most undergraduate degrees, there is strong emphasis on continual assessment. The exact content of the course is reviewed regularly to ensure that the course is distinctive and up-to-date. The wide range of continual assessment formats will allow you to improve your generic skills, and to hone your ability to solve problems. As part of the continual assessment of modules, you will give a wide range of oral presentations; prepare short articles, essays and research reports; perform computational exercises; and undertake group-based problem solving activities.

The Chemical Biology and Drug Discovery course draws on a set of five core modules:

  • Foundations of Chemical Biology
  • Chemical Biology - Tools and Concepts
  • The Medicinal Chemistry of Drug Development
  • Advanced Medicinal Chemistry
  • Emerging Topics in Chemical Biology


Together these modules will give you a thorough grounding in contemporary chemical biology and drug discovery as well as introducing to topics from the research frontier. In addition you will choose from a wide range of optional modules covering a wide variety of topics from computational biology to asymmetric synthesis.

The focal point of the course is the interdisciplinary research project involving two supervisors with complementary expertise. This project will contribute 50% of the mark for your degree. The School will help you to select the project that is right for you, in an area that interests and motivates you. The project will provide you with key research experience to take your career forward. With the core modules behind you, you will be ideally positioned to choose an exciting problem to investigate. The breadth of expertise available at Leeds means that you will be able to combine a wide range of techniques from computational ligand design to synthesis, protein engineering and laser spectroscopy. These techniques might span one of more of the following general areas: 

  • Synthesis of biologically active molecules 
  • Medicinal chemistry 
  • Enzymology and directed evolution 
  • Biophysical chemistry 
  • Chemical genetics


As an MSc student you will receive training in the generic skills that are required for the module including scientific writing and giving oral presentations. You will select your project at the start of the second semester. You will then undertake a programme of directed reading before writing an initial report. You then spend over four months in your supervisors' research laboratories working alongside PhD students and experienced postdoctoral researchers. During the research project, the students have access to the outstanding research facilities in chemical biology that are available in Leeds.

A first or an upper second class honours degree or equivalent in Chemistry, Biochemistry, or a related subject. The Programme Manager will also be looking for evidence of the skills developed within your honours degree.

If English is not your first language, you may require a language qualification to show that your English is of a high enough standard to meet the demands of your course. The University accepts IELTS, TOEFL or PTE qualifications with the following minimum scores:

- IELTS 6.5 with at least 6.0 in all components;

- IBT TOEFL score (internet-based test) of at least 92 overall with at least 21 in listening, 21 in reading, 23 in speaking, and 22 in writing

- Pearson Test of English (PTE) academic score of 64 with at least 60 in all components.

Other English Language qualifications may be acceptable, please contact us to find out more.

On graduation, you will be ideally placed to undertake interdisciplinary research in academia and the pharmaceutical or biotechnology industry. You will also be in a strong position to pursue a science-related career, such as patent work, scientific publishing or scientific administration. In addition, this course places Masters students in a strong position to forge a career at companies that work at the interface between chemistry and biology. The pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries are increasingly requiring researchers with a strong interdisciplinary background.

Many of our graduates have secured positions on Chemical Biology and Medicinal Chemistry PhD programmes in the UK and internationally. The Astbury Centre hosts a wide range of PhD programmes incorporating Chemical Biology and Medicinal Chemistry offering many opportunities for students graduating from the MSc course. The MSc provides tailored training at the interface between chemistry and the biological sciences, and will enhance your prospects of securing a place on one of these highly competitive postgraduate programmes.