F153 Medicinal Chemistry

Students take a total of four courses units per year with many courses being half units. For each year of study a student undertakes a number of core (compulsory) units, together with a number of optional chemistry courses and further options al courses from outside the department.

Details for each year are given below. The BSc and MSci differ in the third year and there is a description of the third year given as a separate item. The main differences are that BSc students do less practical work and the Literature Project is optional.

Note that optional units are subject to changes as new areas of chemistry are introduced intro the curriculum or are developed by new staff.

Year 1

Introduction to Chemical Principles (CHEM1004, 1 unit, core)

The aims of CHEM1004 are to lay the foundations of the 3 main branches of chemistry for all of the subsequent courses in the Department. The course material is linked to, but extends considerably, A-level chemistry and related courses.

A laboratory course is included to reinforce key skills.

Topics will include:

  • Atomic structure and bonding
  • Atomic spectroscopy
  • Fundamentals of Organic Mechanisms and Stereochemistry
  • Interfaces between the sciences.

Basic Physical Chemistry (CHEM1301, 0.5 unit , core)

The aim of this course is to introduce students to gases through the kinetic theory of gases, and to the description and interpretation of chemical systems using quantum mechanics, statistical mechanics, and thermodynamics.


  • Kinetic theory of gases.
  • Quantum mechanics
  • Statistical thermodynamics and thermodynamics

Basic Organic Chemistry (CHEM1201, 0.5 unit, core)

To provide a general understanding of organic chemistry and a knowledge of basic organic reactions. The structure, conformation and stereochemistry of organic compounds, as well as their reactions will be studied. A basic  understanding of the fundamental principles of organic chemistry and the synthesis and reactivity of the most important functional groups in organic compounds will be developed.


  • Fundamental concepts of organic chemistry
  • Alkanes
  • Alkenes
  • Alkynes
  • Alkyl halides
  • Preparation of alcohols
  • Ethers and Epoxides
  • Structure and Preparation of Aldehydes and Ketones
  • Reactions of Aldehydes and Ketones
  • Preparation of Nitrogen-containing Compounds
  • Carboxylic Acids and their Derivatives
  • Review of Key Principles; How to apply Knowledge of Organic Chemistry

Mammalian Physiology (PHOL1001, 1.0 unit, core)

These introductory lectures on cell physiology deal with the movement of solute across cell membranes, membrane and action potentials and the special properties of excitable tissues. The principle organ systems are then covered conventionally: circulation, respiration, the gastro-intestinal tract, the nervous system, endocrines and the kidney. There are a set of practicals and self-instructional sessions with practical elements. 

Biochemistry and Molecular Biology A (BIOC1001, 0.5 unit, core)

Biochemistry and Molecular Biology A provides a general introduction to cell biology, nucleic acids, protein structure, metabolic biochemistry, cell physiology, cell signalling, and immunology.

Cells and Development (CELL1001, 0.5 unit, core)

The course provides a general introduction to cell biology, developmental biology and tissue structure. Topics will include: Membrane structure and function, cellular organelles, cytoskeleton, cell signalling, cell division, cell physiology, basic principles of embryonic development, cell fate, cell differentiation, and tissue architecture (histology). There are practicals on tissue architecture, developmental biology, and cell physiology. 

Year 2

Organic Chemistry (CHEM2201, 1 unit, core)

The course provides an essential understanding of organic chemistry.


  • structure elucidation by spectroscopic means;
  • electronic structure and reactivity of carbonyl compounds;
  • synthesis and reactivity of simple molecules;
  • basic retrosynthetic analysis;
  • the use of phosphorous, sulfur, boron and silicon reagents in organic synthesis;
  • essential chemistry of heteroaromatic compounds.

Fundamentals of Inorganic Chemistry (CHEM2101, 0.5 unit, core)


  • To introduce certain key aspects of inorganic chemistry, including solid state structures, the chemistry of Group 15 and materials and transition metal chemistry. 
  • To provide practice in answering some basic concepts in inorganic chemistry through assessed problem sheets.


  • Metals in the Periodic Table
  • Introduction to the Solid State
  • Chemistry and Periodicity of Group 15 metals
  • Metals in Medicine

Physical Chemistry for Medicinal Chemistry and Life Sciences (CHEM2302, 0.5 unit, core)

An intermediate course designed to provide students who have a primary interest in Medicinal Chemistry and Biochemistry with a more detailed knowledge of Physical Chemistry applied to aqueous solutions. Successful students should

  • understand the basic concepts of thermodynamics as applied to aqueous solutions, especially activities and the use of thermodynamic tables.
  • be able to apply these to some simple systems including macromolecule solutions.
  • understand important concepts in equilibrium electrochemistry and the application of these in chemical and biochemical situations.
  • understand the concepts of mobility and conductance and the determination of transport properties in solution.
  • understand basic spectroscopic concepts as applied to species in solution and be able to choose between various spectroscopic techniques for monitoring species in solution.

Further Topics in Biochemistry (BIOC2003, 0.5 unit, core)

This course, intended for students not specialising in Biochemistry, is a lecture course with tutorials. It covers topics in molecular biology and control of gene expression, immunology and the immune response, enzyme kinetics, membrane structure, haemoglobin structure and function, collagen and the extracellular matrix and intracellular protein targeting.

Introductory Statistical Methods and Computing (STAT6101, 0.5 units, core)

On completion of the course a student should have an understanding of basic methods of descriptive statistics, confidence intervals and significance tests, which they could apply to simple standard situations in their own field of study.

General and Systematic Phamarcology (PHAR2002, 1.0 unit, core)

General pharmacology: Drug targets. Mechanisms of drug action. Receptor structure, mechanisms and transduction processes. Pharmacokinetics. Structure-activity relationships. Development of new drugs and clinical trials. Drug toxicity.

Systematic pharmacology: Peripheral nervous system, with emphasis on cholinergic and adrenergic mechanisms. Cardiovascular and renal pharmacology with specific consideration of drug use in hypertension, angina and dysrhythmias. Anticoagulants and lipid lowering drugs. Chemotherapy of infectious diseases and cancer. Mediators of inflammation, anti-inflammatory drugs and drugs affecting the immune response. Drug control of fertility and diabetes. Neuropharmacology, with specific consideration of drug use in Parkinson’s, schizophrenia, anxiety, depression and epilepsy. Analgesia and anaesthesia. Anti-obesity drugs. Drug dependence.

Year 3

Literature Project (CHEM3004, 0.5 unit, core/option)

Core for MSci Students, option for BSc students


To write a review of a current research area in chemistry of up to 5,000 words (excluding figures and schemes), containing at least 20 references to primary scientific literature.


To identify and document key aspects of recent research literature on a specified topic, using a variety of (largely electronic) search methods and databases; to acquire a firm understanding and overview of the specific field of research defined by the project, and to put in context, and in an objective manner, key research results; to write a concise review that is scientifically correct and communicates good understanding of the specific area.

An Introduction to Research Methods for Medicinal Chemistry (CHEM3002, 0.5 unit, core)

Advanced practical skills are developed through a series of experimental modules.

Principles and Methods of Organic Synthesis (CHEM3205, 0.5 unit, core)

The aim of this course is to give students an understanding of more advanced areas of organic synthesis. Key areas covered include: Palladium-catalysed reactions; Basic asymmetric synthesis; Pericyclic organic reactions; Stereoelectronic effects; and Stereocontrolled synthesis and manipulation of cyclic and polycyclic molecules.


  • Catalytic Palladium Chemistry in Organic Synthesis
  • Asymmetric Synthesis
  • Frontier Orbitals in Organic Chemistry
  • Stereoelectronic Effects in Organic Synthesis

Pathways, Intermediates and Function in Organic Chemistry (CHEM3206, 0.5 unit, core)

The primary aim of the course is to give students the ability to understand organic reactions and to interpret these in mechanistic terms, to a point where they can apply this knowledge in a creative way.

By the end of this course, students will be able to:

  • Understand some important types of organic reactions in terms of the underlying mechanistic principles involved.
  • Predict the outcome of reactions involving highly reactive intermediates.

Principles of Drug Design (CHEM3204, 0.5 unit, core)

The central aim of the course is to impart an understanding of what medicinal chemists have to think about when attempting to design new drugs. The course will describe the principles involved in modern drug design and discovery and, throughout, principles will be emphasised by reference to compounds in current clinical usage. Topics to be covered will include:

  • An introduction to the basis of drug development, molecular size, shape and charge in drug action, quantitative structure-activity relationships and drug design
  • Antibacterial and antifungal chemotherapy
  • Enzyme inhibitors as drugs
  • Antiviral and anticancer chemotherapy

In addition, there will be a series of lectures given by speakers from the pharmaceutical industry. The material in these lectures will also be examinable; however, there will not be a separate question on the exam paper specifically for these lectures.

Molecular Phamarcology (PHAR3003, 0.5 unit, core)

The course deals with the quantitative principles that underlie the study of the action of drugs at receptors beginning with the physical chemical principles which underlie drug-receptor interactions. The molecular nature of receptors is considered in detail and a critcal and quantitative approach to the analysis and interpretation of pharmacological data is developed.

Receptor Mechanisms or Drug Design & Development (PHAR3004 or PHAR3006, 0.5 unit, core)

Students take one of the above courses.

Receptor Mechanisms

This course is about the mechanisms involved in the generation of a response following receptor activation, either by a natural hormone or neurotransmitter or by drug action, and how drugs may interfere with receptor-mediated responses. Mechanisms involving ligand-gated ion channels, voltage-dependent calcium channels and potassium channels, G-proteins, second messengers (e.g. inositol phosphates, diacylglycerol) and cellular kinases and phosphatases are then considered in detail, together with the role of calcium. A final section draws these themes together by examining integrated cell responses such as the control of the release of insulin from the pancreas. The course material is supplemented by group presentations and discussion of selected research papers related to the core lectures and by the preparation of an essay by each student.

Drug Design & Development

This course is taught by the Departments of Medicine and Pharmacology and is about the discovery of new drugs. Students will consider the ways of identifying novel compounds for development and the processes which take place before such compounds are released onto the market following its introduction into clinical practice. The course includes an opportunity for project work on the development of a specific drug, a practical class on the effects of drugs on gastric secretion in human volunteers, seminars on ethics committee operation and on drug licensing and a one-day visit to the drug industry.

Other Options (0.5 or 1 unit)

Further units are taken to take the total number of units to 4.0. Students can take options outside of chemistry but for BSc students one 0.5 unit must be a chemistry course.

Chemistry options include:

Concepts in Computational and Experiment Chemistry
Inorganic Rings, Chains and Clusters
Biological Chemistry
Principles of Drug Design
Pathways, Intermediates and Function in Organic Chemistry
Numerical Methods in Chemistry
New Directions in Materials Chemistry

See Year 1 and 2 options from the Chemistry MSci course for subject areas outside chemistry.

The BSc third year can be viewed here.

Year 4

Advanced Chemical Research Project (CHEMM901, 2 unit, core)

The course involves two terms' research under the direct supervision of one or, in some cases, two members of the academic staff.

Experimental work starts in the second week of the first term and be completed three weeks from the end of the second term. The total time available is therefore 1 week for reading and preparation, 19 weeks for experimental work and 3 weeks to produce a final report. An average of about 22 hours a week should be devoted to the project, including reading, writing and discussions, giving a total load of about 500 hours. 

Assessment is through the supervisor's observation, a project report, an oral examination and a presentation.

Advanced Chemistry Options (three 0.5 unit)

Other Options (0.5 unit)

An option outside of chemistry may be taken or an additional course in chemistry.

See Year 1 options for the MSci Chemistry course for subject areas outside chemistry.

Return to Course List