UCL School of Pharmacy

Prof Stephen Neidle

Prof Stephen Neidle

Emeritus Professor of Chemical Biology and CRUK Professorial Fellow

UCL School of Pharmacy

Faculty of Life Sciences

Joined UCL
1st Jan 2012

Research summary

Stephen Neidle’s interests are primarily in the chemistry and biology of nucleic acid structure and recognition by small molecules, and in exploiting this information for the rational design of novel therapeutic agents. He has pioneered multi-disciplinary studies on the structure and recognition of G-quadruplex nucleic acids as drug targets and has published over 500 papers and reviews and 14 patents, and has written and edited a number of books on these topics. His current h index is 92 in Web of Science  and 107 in Google Scholar.

The novel antibiotic (ridinilazole: SMT19969) is directly derived from and closely related to, earlier compounds invented by him, in collaboration with Professor John Mann (formerly at Queen’s University Belfast). Summit plc, an Oxford, UK based drug discovery company, commenced a Phase I clinical trial for ridinilazole in 2012. This orally-available small-molecule antibiotic is selective for the treatment of C. difficile infection, a serious hospital-associated bacterial disease especially affecting the elderly. It is notoriously hard to treat with existing drugs. A Phase I trial of ridinilazole was successfully concluded in 2013. A proof of concept Phase II clinical trial has shown significant superiority over the current agent of choice. Summit Therapeutics is currently undertaking large-scale Phase III trials, due to complete in 2020. Ridinilazole has been granted Fast Track designation by the US Food and Drug Administration. The drug was developed by Summit and its biological properties were characterized in a collaboration with the Neidle laboratory, funded by the Wellcome Trust Seeding Drug Discovery Fund (Mann et al, MedChemComm. 2015, 6:1420-1426).

Work in the Neidle laboratory in the cancer therapeutics area is currently focused on exploiting the occurrence of quadruplex DNA and RNA sequences in particular regions of the human genome associated with oncogene expression, and targeting these with selective small molecules. Recent studies are applying this approach to therapeutic areas of high unmet clinical need, especially to pancreatic, prostate and gastrointestinal (GIST) cancers. Lead compounds have been identified which show high activity in drug-resistant cancer cells and in in vivo models for pancreatic cancer (see for example: ACS Medicinal Chemistry Letters, 2020,  1, 1634-1644). This work has been most recently supported by the UCL Technology Fund. the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust.

The role of quadruplexes in other therapeutic areas has also been pursued. Collaboration with Professor Adrian Isaacs (Institute of Neurology, UCL) and Professors David Boykin and David Wilson (Georgia State University, Atlanta, USA) has focused on the incurable neurodegenerative disorder ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis).  The expansion of a GGGGCC repeat within the first intron of the C9orf72 gene is the most common genetic cause of ALS. Several small molecules have been identified that stabilize RNA quadruplexes formed within the intron, and which ameliorate the key pathologies associated with C9orf72 ALS. This provides proof of principle in vitro and in vivo that targeting GGGGCC repeat quadruplexes has therapeutic potential - (Simone et al, EMBO Molecular Medicine, 2018, 10(1):22-31).

Teaching summary


Professor Stephen Neidle is a chemistry graduate of Imperial College, where he also undertook research on the structures of a number of complex natural products and antibiotics (DSc, PhD, ARCS). After a period as an ICI Fellow, he joined the Biophysics Department at King’s College London, which initiated his interest in nucleic acid structural studies. He was one of the first Cancer Research Campaign Career Development Awardees, and has been a Life Fellow and Professorial Fellow of Cancer Research UK since 1986. His work has been recognised by a number of awards, including the Sosnovsky and Aventis Prizes for work on the medicinal chemistry of cancer, the Interdisciplinary and Medicinal Chemistry Award of the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Paul Ehrlich, Kelland and Guggenheim Lectureships, and a visiting Professorship at the University of Rome. 

He was appointed to the Chair of Biophysics at the Institute of Cancer Research in 1990 (where he was also Academic Dean 1997-2002) and moved to the School of Pharmacy, University of London in 2002 as the first holder of the Chair of Chemical Biology. He has also been Research Director of the School. 

Stephen Neidle has been Editor-in-Chief of "Bioorganic and Medicinal Chemistry Letters", and is currently a member of the editorial boards of the journals "Nucleic Acids Research," and "Methods". He chairs the editorial board of "Annual Reports in Medicinal Chemistry" (2016-) and was Chairman of the Editorial Boards of Tetrahedron Journals 2011-13 and the RSC Biomolecular Sciences book series.  He was Founding Chair of the RSC Chemical Biology Forum 2000-2005 and Chair of the Chemistry in Cancer Research Working Group, American Association for Cancer Research, 2011-12. Currently he is a member of the “Drinkaware UK” Medical Advisory Panel. Chair, Science Foundation of Ireland grants panels 2017, 2018, member UK Blavatnik UK Awards Panel for Chemistry 2017-2019, Chair of the Medical and Health Sciences Panel, Czech Academy of Sciences, 2020.