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Natural Drug Discovery

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Main activities

Bioactive peptides and proteins (Biologics) represent a major proportion of all experimental therapeutics that are currently being evaluated clinically. The Natural Drug Discovery theme has a long-standing international track record in all aspects of natural bioactive peptide research ranging from basic science through to clinical applications.

Research within the theme focuses on isolation, structural and functional characterisation of novel bioactive peptides/proteins from sources in Nature including amphibian defensive skin secretions, reptile, scorpion and insect venoms and other natural sources such as neuroendocrine tumours.  Biological entities of interest include broad-spectrum antimicrobials, activators/inhibitors of the innate immune system, angiogenesis regulators, vasoactives, neuroactives, smooth muscle modulators and protease inhibitors. 

Target identification follows structural and functional characterisation of the novel bioactives and the majority of these are G-protein linked receptors (GPCRs) and ion channels.  We have developed a technique of “shotgun” cloning of transcriptomes that is used extensively in the discovery phase of our research.


Research highlights

Our group is currently strategically placed to provide the pharmaceutical industry with a niche resource in the form of natural peptide/protein libraries in excess of 60,000 molecules from unique sources.  The research of the group has produced 7 patents which describe novel vasoactive peptides involved in arterial smooth muscle relaxation and in the control of angiogenesis. 

The theme has also spearheaded the development of a thriving collaborative MPhil/PhD programme with several Chinese medical and pharmaceutical universities that recruits 32 postgraduate students each year.






Areas of expertise

  • peptide/protein structural characterisation
  • peptide synthesis and analogue design
  • mass spectrometry technologies
  • molecular cloning
  • bioinformatics
  • pharmacological screening