UCL School of Pharmacy

Dr Esther Woon

Dr Esther Woon

Associate Professor in Drug Discovery

Pharma & Bio Chemistry

UCL School of Pharmacy

Joined UCL
23rd Jul 2020

Research summary

My research focus on developing (1) small molecule inhibitors, (2) fluorescent biosensors, and (3) smart nanomachines to facilitate the study of epigenetic enzymes, and how they are associated with human diseases.  

I am particularly fascinated by two major classes of epigenetic enzymes- the Nucleic Acid demethylases and Histone Demethylases, which are implicated in a range of human diseases, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, neurodegenerative diseases, inflammation, and several cancers. 

I am interested in understanding their structures, biological functions and molecular mechanisms, with a view to identifying novel therapeutic strategies, disease targets and biomarkers. To this end, I employ a variety of research techniques and I collaborate extensively with research groups across multiple disciplines, such as organic chemistry, biophysics, structural & molecular biology, bioinformatics, engineering and medicine.  

Let's collaborate! 

I am happy to work with scientists from different disciplines. Please feel free to get on touch with me.

Teaching summary


Dr Esther Woon obtained her PhD in Medicinal Chemistry from the University of Bath in 2004, then went on to do her postdoctoral research at the UCL School of Pharmacy, where she studied the inhibition of protein-protein interactions. She was subsequently awarded a Wellcome Trust-funded research fellowship to pursue epigenetic drug discovery research at the University of Oxford before joining the National University of Singapore as an Assistant Professor. In 2020, she returned to the UCL School of Pharmacy to become Associate Professor of Drug Discovery. 

Dr Woon currently leads a multidisciplinary research group focusing on identifying novel epigenetic disease targets, therapeutic strategies, and biomarkers. Her research contributed to the first discovery of several cell-active inhibitors against histone demethylases, nucleic acid demethylases and other clinically-important epigenetic targets. One notable discovery is the anti-obesity FTO inhibitor, which received national and international media coverage. Her work on epigenetic-induced conformational change also led to the invention of a range of fluorescent biosensors and smart nanomachines useful in biomedical applications. She has been involved in many international collaborations. She published in several leading journals in the field of Chemistry and Biology, including Angewandte Chemie, Nucleic Acids Research, Chemical Science, and Nature Communications, and has given several invited/plenary talks at international conferences.