Drug discovery

Drug discovery

Scientist using screening technology
Drug discovery research seeks to understand how disease develops at a molecular level, identifying ‘targets’ for analysis. Drug discovery uses the identified molecular target to test drug-like chemicals, and realise disease impacts. The testing and realisation is the initial step in the drug discovery process. 

Rational design and scientific validation improve the properties of these drug-like ‘hits’ to create therapeutic drugs ready to treat disease in patients. The path of drug discovery, from initial understanding, through testing and development of a drug is referred to as the drug discovery pipeline.

What is high throughput screening?

High throughput screening is a gold standard for discovering ‘hits’ during the early stages of drug discovery. The technology uses automation to test hundreds of thousands of drug-like chemicals against molecular targets. The ‘hits’ discovered using high throughput screening provide a starting point for the development of new drugs.

The Drug Discovery Centre

The Institute's Drug Discovery Centre offers the latest in advanced robotic equipment and drug discovery expertise to researchers. This collection of state-of-the-art technologies, such as ultra-high throughput screening, enables the translation of biomedical research into lifesaving medicine for patients.

The Centre addresses a critical early step in the drug discovery pipeline, allowing researchers to identify chemical compounds needed to develop medicines that treat disease. 

State and national funding enhances Drug Discovery Centre capabilities

In 2019, the Drug Discovery Centre received $25 million in funding from the Australian Government and $18 million from the Victorian Government. These investments support the expansion of the Centre, allowing the recruitment of highly-skilled scientists and opening the Centre to the Australian medical research community. 

The funding builds upon the Institute’s own $32.1 million investment in the Centre, as well as previous state government support and generous donations from Metal Manufactures Limited, Mike Fitzpatrick AO and Ms Helen Sykes.

Collaboration is key

The journey from scientific discovery to drug treatment is gradual. The development of anti-cancer drug venetoclax and clinical trials were preceded by two decades of research, involving a number of researchers and organisations, including Genetech, a member of the Roche Group, and AbbVie.

Early drug discovery requires advanced robotics and expert scientists to convert breakthroughs in biology to new medicines for disease treatment. We are working in collaboration with Australia’s medical research organisations to capitalise on our scientific discoveries and build our capability for delivering early drug discovery.



Professor Alan Cowman

Alan Cowman standing in a laboratory
Laboratory Head; Deputy Director, Science Strategy

Dr Joanna Groom

Dr Joanna Groom at a microscope
Laboratory Head

Dr Hélène Jousset Sabroux

Hélène Jousset Sabroux
Jousset Sabroux
Head of Screening Laboratory

Dr Gemma Kelly

Photo Dr Gemma Kelly
Laboratory Head

Associate Professor Guillaume Lessene

Associate Professor Guillaume Lessene in a laboratory
Associate Professor
Laboratory Head; Leader, New Medicines and Advanced Technologies Theme

Dr Brad Sleebs

Dr Brad Sleebs
Laboratory Head
Researchers and Health Minister with robotic equipment

The Australian Government has committed to $25 million in funding to enhance drug discovery capabilities at the Institute’s Drug Discovery Centre. 

Two researchers smiling at the camera

Institute researchers have developed a compound that may be the first step toward a new class of antimalarial drugs.

Venetoclax trial participants

Professor Andrew Roberts and collaborators have shown that patients with an advanced form of leukaemia can achieve complete remission with a novel tablet treatment.

Minister Greg Hunt speaking from a podium

A landmark deal from the partial sale of royalty rights in anti-cancer treatment venetoclax secures the Institute’s place for innovation in medical research.