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MSc(Res) | Postgraduate Taught

Oncology Drug Discovery

Entry year
Entry requirements
1 years (Full Time)
Places available
  • Overview

    The Oncology Drug Discovery MSc course is designed to provide an insight into how existing and future drug targets are identified from biological samples isolated from the cancer clinic. This will include an industrial viewpoint into what makes an interesting target and how, through an iterative process, this target is validated. In addition, lectures will be provided to discuss how ‘hit’ compounds are identified, in both the academic and industrial setting, using compound screen assays and fragment based screening technologies. We will also provide an insight in computational methods for generating chemical ‘hits’. The module will also cover how these ‘hit’ compounds are prosecuted into tool compounds or Lead Optimisation candidates (LO), both historic and modern, that are used to further validate a potential drug target.

    During this second module we will provide an insight into the challenges of moving a compound from an LO candidate to a pre-clinical candidate. How bio-marker companion tests are developed, validated and are used to underpin clinical trials. The lectures will also provide a keen insight into novel formulation strategies currently under development within Queen’s University Belfast. In addition, we will also provide an insight into the development of bio-therapeutics, such as antibodies, that are proving to be a powerful alternative to small molecule based therapeutics.

    Oncology Drug Discovery highlights

    The strong links between us and the biotech and bio-pharmaceutical sectors provides a stimulating translational environment, while also expanding your career opportunities.

    Global Opportunities

    • The partnership with the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the School of Medicine, Dentistry & Biomedical Sciences provides opportunity to study in the USA. This 4-year Doctoral Training Programme (DTP) provides students the opportunity to undertake a postgraduate taught programme in Year 1 at QUB (refer to link below for full list of programmes), followed by a PhD at NCI in Years 2-4. Further information is available at:

    Industry Links

    • Research projects will be provided by both academic staff and local biotech companies in ground-breaking research areas with a strong focus on clinical applications.

    World Class Facilities

    • The Oncology Drug Discovery course will be taught and mentored within the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology: a purpose-built institute at the heart of the Health Sciences Campus, boasting state-of-the-art research facilities.

    Internationally Renowned Experts

    • We have an international reputation in this area, achieved through: high-impact peer review publications significant international research funding, the establishment of successful spin-out companies.

    Brexit Advice

    Information on the implications of Brexit for prospective students.

  • Course content

    Course Structure

    Course IntroductionThe MSc (Res) course in Oncology Drug Discovery offers an excellent opportunity for a graduate level student to study and carry out research in a cutting edge environment. The drug discovery industry and the interaction with academia is a constantly evolving discipline. With stronger links forged between the local biotech industry and the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology (CCRCB) the identification, validation and development of novel drug targets is gathering momentum. Within Queen’s University Belfast we have established links with Almac Discovery, CV6T and Fusion Antibodies. These links have significantly enhanced the capacity of the Drug Discovery Unit within the CCRCB to bring forward interesting new therapeutic targets and generate a training programme for students which provides an excellent insight into the drug discovery pathway.
    This Masters programme will provide an excellent platform for both local and international students to be educated in the drug discovery pipeline from early target identification through to commercialisation. Students will also be offered lab based projects based on a number of aspects of the taught course, including assays development, fragment screening, hit to lead chemistry projects, novel delivery projects and molecular modelling. The taught course and the lab based projects will be provided by PIs working in both the academic (Queen’s) and Industrial/Biotech setting (Almac Discovery and Fusion Antibodies). This is a unique situation which the CCRCB can offer incoming students which will provide them with a significant insight into how each sector works. In addition, the training provided via the lab based projects, will be key in providing the local economy with highly skilled graduates that the current work place does not provide.
    Course StructureThe course is broken down into three major components:
    (1) During the first semester students taking this MSc programme in Oncology Drug Discovery will attend lectures through a shared module in Cancer Biology. This module will provide an excellent background into cancer research and cancer biology that will significantly underpin the Drug Discovery modules in semester 2.
    (2) In semester 2 there will be more focused study on the elements of Oncology Drug Discovery. This will include lectures on understanding new cancer drug targets and how they are validated, compound hit identification processes in both academia and pharma, and how these ‘hits’ are developed towards clinical use.
    (3) Running throughout the course, in both semester 1 and 2, there will be a lab based research project provided by the lecturers on the course. These will be structured to provide essential lab skills in chemistry, drug screening, ‘hit’ compound development and drug delivery.
    Course SummaryResearch Translation from concept to commercialisation (full year)
    Diagnosis and treatment of cancer
    Cancer Biology
    Cancer Drug Target Identification
    Processes required to validate a new Drug Target
    Compound ‘hit’ identification
    ‘Hit to lead’ compound development in early Drug Discovery
    Lead optimization
    Novel drug delivery systems
    Semester 1Research Translation: from Concept to Commercialisation (Full Year)

    This module covers the principles of disease biology and new technological developments that increase our understanding of disease processes. It develops an appreciation of the importance of innovation, business awareness and leadership skills in the translation of discovery science to clinical implementation.

    Diagnosis and Treatment of Cancer

    This module provides a comprehensive overview of the diagnosis and treatment of the common solid and haematological malignancies, including breast, ovarian, genitourinary and gastrointestinal cancers as well as the leukaemias

    Cancer Biology

    This module provides a comprehensive overview of the fundamental principles of carcinogenesis, highlighting how normal control processes are bypassed during tumour formation. The pathogenic mechanisms to be discussed will range from genomic alterations in key gene families, to epigenetic mechanisms of gene control, alterations in kinase activities or protein turnover, or activation of aberrant phenotypes such as invasion and angiogenesis.
    Semester 2Target Identification and Development in Drug Discovery

    This module describe how novel drug targets are identified and validated and identifies how biochemical assays are developed and employed in the drug discovery process. It also evaluates the alternative approaches used in the drug discovery to identify new chemical matter. It describes and defines chemical approaches used in developing ‘hit’ chemical compounds and identifies drug target classes and their drug-like pharmacophores.

    Drug optimization, drug delivery and clinical trials

    This module evaluates the issues associated the drug development process and describes the development, validation and use of bio-markers in the drug discovery process. It discusses the practices employed in clinical trials and defines the processes employed in licensing of new chemical equity and the role it plays in the drug discovery process.

    Research Project and Dissertation

    You will undertake a lab based project in a number of different facets of the drug development, such as hit identification, hit compound development and therapeutic antibody development pathway working with both academic and biotech groups.

    People teaching you

    Dr Rich Williams
    Programme Coordinator

    Dr Rich Williams is an experienced medicinal chemist who has worked in both industry (Albany Molecular Research, Inc.) and academia (Vanderbilt University). In 2009, Rich Williams took up a post within the CCRCB as part of the fledging drug discovery group. During this time he has been involved in developing several drug discovery projects in collaboration with various groups within Queen's.

    Career Prospects

    This programme offers an excellent opportunity to gain training in key skills required to find employment in the current pharma industry. It will also provide an excellent background for accessing further academic education.

    Learning and Teaching






    Assessment is by a combination of oral presentations, lab book writing and written assignments. The research project is also written up as a dissertation thesis.

  • Entry Requirements

    Entrance requirements

    Normally a minimum of a 2.1 Honours degree, or equivalent qualification acceptable to the University, in chemistry, biochemistry, pharmacology, medicinal chemistry or other related and relevant subject acceptable to the University. Evidence of equivalent professional qualifications (MBBS, BDS or BVSc) or experience will be considered on an individual basis.

    Intercalating Applicants:

    Intercalating medical and dental applicants from within QUB will also be considered if they have successfully completed the 3rd/4th year of their course at first attempt and achieved at least an upper second class Honours standard. Intercalating applicants should also ensure they have permission to intercalate from either the Director for Medical Education or Dentistry as appropriate.

    An external medical or dental student wishing to intercalate must be ranked in the top half of their year cohort to have their application considered. Applicants must have passed all assessments at first attempt for the year in which they are applying (normally 3rd or 4th year).

    International Students

    For information on international qualification equivalents, please check the specific information for your country.

    English Language Requirements

    Evidence of an IELTS* score of 6.5, with not less than 6.0 in any component, or an equivalent qualification acceptable to the University is required. *Taken within the last 2 years.

    International students wishing to apply to Queen's University Belfast (and for whom English is not their first language), must be able to demonstrate their proficiency in English in order to benefit fully from their course of study or research. Non-EEA nationals must also satisfy UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) immigration requirements for English language for visa purposes.

    For more information on English Language requirements for EEA and non-EEA nationals see:

    If you need to improve your English language skills before you enter this degree programme, INTO Queen's University Belfast offers a range of English language courses. These intensive and flexible courses are designed to improve your English ability for admission to this degree.

    • Academic English: an intensive English language and study skills course for successful university study at degree level
    • Pre-sessional English: a short intensive academic English course for students starting a degree programme at Queen's University Belfast and who need to improve their English.

    INTO - English Language Course(QSIS ELEMENT IS EMPTY)

  • Fees and Funding

    Tuition Fees

    Northern Ireland (NI) £5,900
    England, Scotland or Wales (GB) £5,900
    Other (non-UK) EU £5,900
    International £20,200

    All tuition fees quoted are for the academic year 2019-20 and relate to one year of study only. Tuition fees will be subject to an annual inflationary increase, unless explicitly stated otherwise.

    More information on postgraduate tuition fees.

    Additional course costs

    All Students

    Depending on the programme of study, there may be extra costs which are not covered by tuition fees, which students will need to consider when planning their studies. Students can borrow books and access online learning resources from any Queen's library. If students wish to purchase recommended texts, rather than borrow them from the University Library, prices per text can range from £30 to £100. Students should also budget between £30 to £75 per year for photocopying, memory sticks and printing charges. Students undertaking a period of work placement or study abroad, as either a compulsory or optional part of their programme, should be aware that they will have to fund additional travel and living costs. If a programme includes a major project or dissertation, there may be costs associated with transport, accommodation and/or materials. The amount will depend on the project chosen. There may also be additional costs for printing and binding. Students may wish to consider purchasing an electronic device; costs will vary depending on the specification of the model chosen. There are also additional charges for graduation ceremonies, examination resits and library fines.

    Oncology Drug Discovery costs

    Students have the option to hire a locker, at a cost of £5 per student, per year.

    How do I fund my study?

    The Department for the Economy will provide a tuition fee loan of up to £5,500 per NI / EU student for postgraduate study. Tuition fee loan information.

    A postgraduate loans system in the UK offers government-backed student loans of up to £10,609 for taught and research Masters courses in all subject areas. Criteria, eligibility, repayment and application information are available on the UK government website.

    More information on funding options and financial assistance.

    International Scholarships

    Information on scholarships for international students, is available at

  • Apply

    How to Apply

    Apply using our online Postgraduate Applications Portal and follow the step-by-step instructions on how to apply.

    Apply now

    Terms and Conditions

    The terms and conditions that apply when you accept an offer of a place at the University on a taught programme of study.
    Queen's University Belfast Terms and Conditions 2019 Entry.

    Download a prospectus

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