University of Dundee

Harnessing early stage drug discovery to drive the translation of biomedical research towards new therapeutics

The Drug Discovery Unit at the University of Dundee is developing new treatments for unmet medical need. The DDU bridges the gap between academic scientific research and commercial drug discovery and development.

The massive, yet largely untapped bank of University derived, internationally competitive life sciences discovery and innovation has the potential to provide solutions for unmet medical need and jobs. Created in 2006, The Drug Discovery Unit at the University of Dundee performs early stage drug discovery to translate ideas for new medicines from basic biomedical research into prototype drugs ready for partnering with industry. This greatly enhances the impact of biomedical research by providing a mechanism for the translation of academic innovation into patient benefit.

The DDU draws on the best of both worlds, employing over 75 highly skilled, experienced scientists from academic and pharmaceutical industry backgrounds. It is the only fully operational and integrated drug discovery team within UK universities working across multiple disease areas, with the full range of disciplines required to produce novel drug candidates.

The DDU’s progress has been tremendous. In 2010, the DDU published the identification of new drug leads for human African trypanosomiasis, or 'sleeping sickness' in the leading scientific journal Nature. Funded by the Wellcome Trust, a partnership with GlaxoSmithKline is developing safe and affordable treatments for Chagas’ disease and leishmaniasis. These neglected tropical diseases kill tens of thousands of people across the developing world every year. The partnership has developed three compound series with efficacy in animal models of these diseases comparable to clinically used drugs and aims to select a pre-clinical candidate for leishmaniasis during 2014. A partnership with the Global Alliance for Livestock Veterinary Medicines (GALVmed) has discovered compounds that are in field trials in Africa for African animal trypanosomosis in cattle.

Malaria is a debilitating parasitic disease killing around one million people each year, mostly children under the age of 5. Through iterative design cycles the DDU produced, within a partnership with Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV), a new prototypic drug that is curative in a mouse model of malaria. In 2014, this compound was accepted into MMV’s clinical development pipeline, affording hope that a safe, affordable, new medicine will be available to replace current treatments that are becoming ineffective due to drug resistance.

The DDU has also been instrumental in partnering projects in genetic skin diseases and Huntington’s disease with GlaxoSmithKline through their Discovery Partnerships with Academia (DPAc) scheme.

The DDU is a successful paradigm for translating basic, innovative life science research, with a portfolio of many exciting and innovative projects.