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 process.

The journey from scientific discovery to drug treatment is gradual. Often it takes decades for a laboratory-based discovery to be turned into a treatment that can be used in patients.

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

In 2020, WEHI expanded its early stage drug discovery capabilities, previously leveraged in various projects including venetoclax, to establish the National Drug Discovery Centre (NDDC).


Opens the NDDC website


The NDDC benefits from the latest in advanced robotic ultra-high throughput screening, addressing a critical early challenge in the drug discovery pipeline. Its quality, capabilities and scale are comparable to global pharmaceutical industry standards, with the flexibility and innovation of academia.

The NDDC is embedded within world-class biology research at WEHI, positioning it to deliver first-in-class, innovative drug discovery projects. The NDDC is active from target discovery to preclinical candidate stage.

The NDDC has a large portfolio of projects, both completed and ongoing, that includes:

  • proprietary WEHI projects
  • academic collaborations with other research institutions and universities
  • collaborative projects with industry partners (biotech and pharma) in the context of strategic alliances or simple fee-for-service models; and
  • projects subsidised by the Australian Government, specifically supporting Australian scientists from academic institutions and small and medium enterprises (SMEs)

Business models are flexible and adapted to the needs of each project and partner. Interested parties should contact Leigh Coultas, Business Development Manager, for an evaluation of how the NDDC could help.

National Drug Discovery Centre funding

In 2019, the Australian Government announced $25 million in funding and the Victorian Government provided $18 million to help establish the National Drug Discovery Centre at WEHI. These investments support the expansion of the NDDC, opening it to the global medical research community and industry partners, and enabling the retention and recruitment of highly-skilled scientists to operate the facility.

Continued support from the Australian Government through the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) provides an opportunity for select Australian academic and SME researchers to access the NDDC’s screening capability at a highly subsidised cost, through a competitive, peer-reviewed process.

The funding builds upon WEHI’s own $32.1 million investment in the centre, as well as previous Victorian Government support and generous donations from AWM Electrical, Mr Mike Fitzpatrick AO and Ms Helen Sykes AM.

Subsidised screening at the National Drug Discovery Centre

A number of subsidised screens are available each year for eligible Australian researchers through the support of a grant from the Australian Government Medical Research Future Fund. This subsidy is available to users from Australia’s academic and bio-pharmaceutical sectors on a fully staffed basis. As a prerequisite, applicants will need to have established a working assay that is HTS-compatible and has been demonstrated in 96-well format.

An expert review panel meets periodically to select the successful applications for subsidised screens.

Learn more about how to apply.


Melbourne Information Session

  • Video: Professor Guillaume Lessene and Dr Hélène Jousset provide an overview of the NDDC and application process for MRFF-funded subsidised screening.
  • Download the presentation


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Dr Rory Bowden

Dr Rory Bowden photographed smiling at the camera
Genomics Laboratory Head and Centre Manager, WEHI Advanced Genomics Facility

Professor Alan Cowman

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

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
Super Content: 
Scientist in the National Drug Discovery Centre

The NDDC enables medical researchers to access ultra-high throughput screening, fast tracking scientific discoveries into new medicines.  

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.

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