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 are the initial steps 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.

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 Genentech, a member of the Roche Group, and AbbVie.

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 a biological target. The ‘hits’ discovered using high throughput screening provide a starting point for the development of new drugs.

National Drug Discovery Centre

The Institute's National Drug Discovery Centre offers Australian medical researchers access to the latest in advanced robotic equipment, with projects managed by researchers with drug discovery expertise. 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

In 2019, the Australian Government provided $25 million in funding and the Victorian Government provided $18 million to the National Drug Discovery Centre. These investments support the expansion of the Centre, opening the National Drug Discovery Centre to the whole Australian medical research community and allowing the recruitment of highly-skilled scientists. Australian Government funding also subsidises the cost of accessing the centre for Australian academic users.

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

Accessing the National Drug Discovery Centre

The Centre will be available to users from Australia’s academic and bio-pharmaceutical sectors on a fully staffed basis. It will operate on a fee-for-service model, with a number of subsidised screens available each year for eligible academic researchers through the support of a grant from the Australian Government Medical Research Future Fund.

An expert review panel will meet periodically to select the successful applications for subsidised screens. The date of the first review meeting will be confirmed shortly. If you wish to have an application considered at this meeting, it is anticipated that the cut-off date will be in early November 2019. As a prerequisite, applicants will need to have established a working assay that is HTS-compatible and has been demonstrated in 96-well or 384-well format.

More information on how to apply will be provided during September 2019.


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

Professor Guillaume Lessene

Professor Guillaume Lessene in a laboratory
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.