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The University of Edinburgh Launches New On-Line Masters in Next Generation Drug Discovery

The University of Edinburgh Launches New On-Line Masters in Next Generation  Drug Discovery


“First law on holes - when you're in one, stop digging!”
Last Updated: 12-Jul-2012

“First law on holes - when you're in one, stop digging!” Denis Healey, former UK Finance Minister.

It is clear that Drug Discovery is in a “hole”. The worries about the patent cliff, and the slowing rate at which new drugs are discovered is well documented. So Denis Healey’s advice is pertinent. Instead of working feverishly harder at what has worked in the past, perhaps standing back to look more reflectively might be the way forward. In a way, standing back and being reflective is what Universities are for. So the University of Edinburgh is offering a Distance Learning course to take a fresh look at the problem.

But this reflection is not from the ivory tower. Three people behind the course have close up experience of the rough-and-tumble of the pharmaceutical industry. Professor Malcolm Walkinshaw, holder of the Chair of Structural Biochemistry at the University of Edinburgh, has spent 10 years in Switzerland with Novartis as head of their Drug Discovery Group. Dr Paul Taylor led a database project in Novartis and Cyclacel and Dr Doug Houston has spent time at Cyclacel Pharmaceuticals and was recently Program Coordinator of a Scottish Enterprise drug discovery project which resulted in the spin-out company UB Pharma. The ideas they have were developed in a fertile environment. Edinburgh is one of the top 25 Universities in the world. They have benefited from the investment the University has made in Systems Biology, an area the University almost invented before its time by the work of Henrik Kacser in the 1970’s. It is also well known for its excellence in Informatics and for its computing infrastructure.

One of the new ideas centre on Doug’s work for considering how to handle the avalanche of data that systems approaches can create when screening a large number of potential drug candidates. Doug has developed a jury method to consider multiple sources of information together in order to rank those that are most likely to be successful. As an example, a recent project aiming to discover chemicals active against parasitic nematodes has resulted in dozens of active compounds. Malcolm’s work on glycolytic trypanosomal targets has benefited from modelling glycolysis in order to better predict which are going to be more effective. What started as a collaboration with Prof Paul Michels from the University of Louvain, Belgium, who is a world expert on trypanosomal glycolysis, is to become even closer as Paul will soon move to Edinburgh permanently.

The Distance Learning course also benefits from contributions from friends in the industry who are successful entrepreneurs in their own right. They have contributed material on how to bring a successful lead compound through to a commercially successful drug. Students will also benefit from their advice about how to build a career in the Pharmaceutical Industry and hear their take on what someone starting out now should pay particular attention to.

Many professional choose Distance Learning courses in the University of Edinburgh not only because they fit into their busy lives, but because they also provide the discipline and focus to ensure that they engage with new thinking rather than letting it be continually knocked down their agendas.

The benefits of doing this course to a career are:

  • Access to new thinking coming from academia; these include new computational and systems biology approaches to drug discovery so that students are equipped to deal with the deluge of knowledge in this information age;
  • Enhanced career prospects by bringing innovative ideas to the industry;
  • Networking with peers across the globe;
  • Increased expertise in on-line communication in an international context, a key employability skill as more collaborative partnerships are formed in a climate in which business travel is reducing;
  • Open options to make a transition to academic research; and
  • Demonstration of commitment and self-reliance by completing a challenging course.
The course starts in September 2012. Places are still available. Prof. Malcolm Walkinshaw, noted “The distance learning MSc in Next Generation Drug Discovery provides a unique opportunity by which students interested in drug discovery from all over the world can learn together, and take advantage of the new computational and systems biology approaches that we are applying to commercial drug discovery projects”.

More information can be obtained from viewing the online prospectus. Click here to view the course website.

Further inquires can be made to the MSc Course Administrator,